As most countries struggle to fight the pandemic, Covid-19 is likely to hit developing nations much harder than developed ones
Bangladesh is seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases because the government failed to implement lockdowns properly and at the right time, said speakers at a webinar hosted by Dhaka Tribune
The webinar on how developing nations are coping with the pandemic was moderated by Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan and broadcast on Friday evening.
“The way the lockdown was designed and implemented in Bangladesh, there were questions about why it was called a general holiday instead of a lockdown. It was misleading when it comes to the public understanding what they actually have to do,” said Rajiv Chowdhury, associate professor of global health at University of Cambridge.
“The transmission rate can be reduced without a lockdown at the early stage of a pandemic, but Bangladesh could not do that well at the outset. A Lockdown only works when people do not come in close contact with each other,” he added.
He also pointed out that Bangladesh lifted the lockdown even though healthcare services did not have the capacity to deal with the surge of Covid-19 patients.
Speakers agreed on the fact that lockdown is not a one-size-fits-all approach and the approaches South Korea or Switzerland took might not be suitable for Bangladesh.
Prof Oscar H Franco, director of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM) at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said Peru implemented lockdowns from the early stage of the pandemic but has still become one of the worst-hit countries because many of its citizen do not own refrigerators and have to go out to buy groceries frequently.
He said the lockdown approach needs to be appropriate for a country.
“Lockdowns have to be locally tailored,” said Rajiv Chowdhury, echoing Franco.
Bangladesh handicapped by lack of data
While moderating the webinar, Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan said the fundamental problem is that Bangladesh does not have enough data to figure out how to manage the lockdown situation.
“Some people have suggested having a curfew-style lockdown. Would that be a possible solution for us, even though we don’t really have the data we need?” he said.
Healthcare leadership expert Maliha Mannan Ahmed said: “If a curfew style lockdown is enforced then what is the authority is going to do with people who break curfews or timing and social distancing protocols? Lockdowns should be implemented strategically and in way that is appropriate for the country.”
She further said zonal lockdowns would not do much to slow the transmission rate without enough data to map the zones properly.
“How would the authorities find out where most of the cases are coming from if they don’t have enough data?,” she added.
José Rocha Faria Neto, professor of medicine at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná (PUCPR) in Brazil, said the pandemic has caused a lot of problems for people who are suffering from non-Covid-19 diseases.
“People are now afraid to go to hospitals and are dying from non-covid diseases at home,” he said.
Prof Oscar H Franco warned that the world might see another pandemic if three crucial issues are ignored during this pandemic.
“There are three time bombs that are ticking. First, cancer patients are not being screened and when they come to the hospital they are in very bad states. Second one is the immunization program - children are getting vaccines and they might lose immunity to many diseases other than Covid-19. The third is mental health fallout from the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
“This mental health issue is not talked much, but many people are suffering from anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, insomnia and other mental health issues that have been triggered by the pandemic,” he added.
Prof Oscar H Franco also said he hopes the pandemic will not hit Bangladesh as hard as it hit Europe, South America and North America.
“I hope Bangladesh will learn from the mistakes other countries have made and take strong measures to prevent it,” he added.