Lack of smartphones and internet proving to be significant barrier to registration
A section of the working class in Bangladesh is still struggling with the registration process for the nationwide vaccination campaign, and many locals are unaware that they must register if they want the vaccine.
Paresh Das, a 70-year-old cobbler in the Science Laboratory area of Dhaka, was one such local. He had been under the impression that he would just have to go to the hospital and the vaccine would be administered.
When told that he would have to register online to get the shot, a resigned Paresh said: “Coronavirus does not infect poor people like me. So, it is not necessary to take the vaccine.”
Khadija, a 55-year-old house help from Dhaka’s Kamrangirchar, said she wants to get the jab but has no idea how to get it.
“I heard that my name should be listed on the computer, but no one came to tell us how to do it. I don’t know which hospital I should go to,” she said.
Both of them use regular phones.
A fish trader in the city’s Hatirpool bazar, a rickshaw-puller in Dhanmondi and many more people in the low-income group are similarly unaware of vaccine registration.
“We will definitely take the vaccine but don’t know how or where to get it. If the government asks us to go somewhere, we will go there for both registration and vaccination,” said a roadside vendor in Nilkhet.
On recent visits to vaccination centres, this correspondent found very few people from the poorer sections of society. Most vaccine seekers at the centres were from middle-income or educated households.
Lack of smartphones, internet proving to be major barrier
According to a 2018 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), there are around 2.2 million rickshaw-pullers in Dhaka. Government sources said there are about 3.5 to 5.5 million sweepers in the country.
Furthermore, around 4 million people are directly or indirectly involved in the road transport sector in the country, according to the transport workers’ federation.
Local Government Minister Tazul Islam in late 2019 informed parliament that around 646,000 people live in the nearly 3,400 slums in Dhaka.
“People from low-income groups and other backward groups are at the greatest risk of exposure, but there appears to be no urgency to get the vaccine in them. There are several reasons for this, chief of which is lack of smartphones with internet and the knowledge of how to register on the Surokkha website,” said public health expert Be-Nazir Ahmed.
“The vaccine may be free of cost, but they still cannot avail it,” he added.
Dr Nazmul Islam, a spokesperson for the DGHS Covid-19 media cell, had said inoculating 225,000 people a day was a good outcome.
However, the number of daily vaccinations had dropped to 121,010 on Thursday. It was 158,654 on Wednesday, 114,680 on Tuesday, 116,300 on Monday and 125,752 on Sunday.
Experts said the drop-off is likely the result of the poorer sections who make up the majority of the population having been unable to register.
What do the authorities say?
DGHS Additional Director General Dr Nasima Sultana, also chief of the directorate’s Covid-19 media cell, said the process of inoculating people in urban areas is going well.
“Still, the number of inoculations has reduced. We have noticed that people who have registered from union parishad areas are not going to the vaccination centres,” she added.
“Many of them might not be going to the centres because they are unable bear transport costs. We are looking into the matter.”
When asked why the government is not prioritizing the vaccination of the poorer sections of society, she said: “Few of them have been infected. As they are not at as high risk, we are prioritizing front-liners. Stock of vaccines is also an issue.
“We will go for mass inoculations once we have enough doses in hand,” the DGHS additional director added.
When asked about the people over the age of 40 in the poorer sections of society, she said: “Community Healthcare Providers (CHCPs) have helped many such people to complete their registration. In places where CHCPs do not have a setup, the registration is the responsibility of the local government. Anyone who registers and then goes to the vaccine centre will get the vaccine.”
She also urged NGOs to help people who are unable to register for the vaccine.
Joint Secretary of Local Government Division Noor Alam Siddiqui told Dhaka Tribune they have had desks to help people with registration at healthcare facilities and maternity clinics in urban areas from the beginning of the vaccination campaign.
When asked if they have conducted any campaigns to inform people about the help desks, he said campaigning is the responsibility of DGHS.
So far, Bangladesh has inoculated over 2% of its citizens (3,581,169). And over 4.8 million people have had completed registration till Friday afternoon.