Most of the measures used in fighting the deadly disease -- such as social distancing or quarantine -- are quite impossible and unrealistic for them to maintain, slum dwellers told the Dhaka Tribune
Even at a time when Bangladesh steps into its 100th day of the Covid-19 contagion on Monday, most slum dwellers in Dhaka remain unaware of the deadly disease.
Most of the measures used in fighting the deadly disease, such like social distancing or quarantine, is quite impossible and unrealistic for them to maintain, slum dwellers told the Dhaka Tribune.
Twenty-year-old Mohammad Shamim Miah, who lives at city's Korail slum - widely recognized and the largest of its kind in the capital - with his wife and two children, are still yet to learn how to wash their hands properly.
They do not have access to hand wash or sanitizer, or even soap, to begin with.
The lack of knowledge and understanding on the terms used in fighting Covid-19 seem like jargons for them, they added.
Garments worker Shefali Akhter, another resident of the same slum, reckon that it is likely to be a myth or unreal story which people have been circulating in their conversations or social discourse, she said, terming Covid-19 the "korolavirus.”
She also said it is neither possible for them to buy personal hygiene products, nor keep their children clean at all times in this densely populated slum.
A latest survey by Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) found that people have doubts and confusion regarding certain terms and phrases, such as stay at home, social distancing, quarantine, and lockdown, which are being used internationally to deal with the pandemic.
The survey was aimed to understand how coronavirus-related information, circulated by several government and non-government organisations through different forms of print and electronic media, were being received, interpreted, and absorbed by recipients in their daily life.
The survey collected data through 82 telephone interviews, online behaviour monitoring, and shadow monitoring methods from different classes, gender, and locality in four different clusters—rural areas, district towns, urban slums, and middle-class in Dhaka.
“I think one of the underlying issues is really fundamental - this is crisis in communications. Because at the end of it any epidemic, Covid-19 is very serious and at the heart of it is behavior changing communication,” BIGD Executive Director Imran Matin has said.
The survey finds that each of these terms means different things to people of different socio-economic background, and most people also have doubts and confusion about the rules of “hand-washing.”
For staying at home, the concept of “home” is even more complicated in slums of the city where a single corridor is home to eight to ten different families, with shared kitchen and bathroom, it says.
Similarly, “social distancing” generates different types of receptions among different people and is a rather unrealistic idea for slum-dwellers, it added.
Moreover, the use of masks is considered by many to be inappropriate in our culture. Findings also show that consequently, people wear masks when they are alone and whenever they face an elder or a client or a friend, they take off their mask as an act of civil gesture.
The graphic microscopic images of the virus shown on TV channels have also been misinterpreted and many of these media outlets often circulate a large amount of contradictory information, it said.
In villages, for instance, home is not just a single house, but a collection of several houses in close proximity that are shared by multiple families. For villagers, “staying at home” means restricting their mobility and activities to the neighborhoods or para, the survey finds.
One of the researchers of the survey, University of Sussex Principle Investigator Dr Shahaduzzaman, said there is gap between this information and the enactment of research advices.
“And this is a communication crisis. We also argue that epidemic is generally conceded as a public health, economical, and political crisis, but underplaying the crisis of communication is also an important crisis of any epidemic,” he said.
During the survey, many people have misinterpreted the instructions to wash hands for 20 seconds in various ways. Some said that the government has asked them to wash their hands for 20 minutes, while others said that they have been asked to wash their hands 20 times a day.
Even no one in this study had a clear idea of what to do if they contract the Coronavirus. Moreover, many of them failed or had trouble calling the IEDCR numbers.
“We have also noticed that a large amount of information, often confusing and ambiguous, is being circulated on different news media, resulting in an infodemic. Social media are also overflowing with Coronavirus-centric rumours and claims of discovering the cure for Covid-19,” Dr Shahaduzzaman said.
To effectively tackle this crisis, the study recommends news media to be more careful when publishing any news. It also recommends purposively and separately designing information for people of different socio-economic background in ways that they can easily understand.