The Financial Express

Preparing for the 'second wave'

Ignoring health safety norms amid coronavirus outbreak, passengers scramble to get on a local bus in the city after resumption of bus services after over two-month shutdown during coronavirus outbreak —FE file photo Ignoring health safety norms amid coronavirus outbreak, passengers scramble to get on a local bus in the city after resumption of bus services after over two-month shutdown during coronavirus outbreak —FE file photo

None but the head of the government has very recently raised the issue of a possible 'second wave' of Covid in the coming winter and the preparations to tackle it.

She made it clear that this time the focus is on ensuring oxygen supply and intensive care facilities---two prerequisites for treating Covid patients--- in the district hospitals. As the Covid-19 raged through the country in the months between March and June, the dearth of these essential medical facilities was felt terribly. Most districts did not have the RT-PCR labs to detect Covid infections. The absence of diagnostic as well as treatment facilities in districts forced patients to suffer most and in some cases die virtually without any treatment.

The deadly pathogen has infected hundreds of thousands of people and claimed nearly six thousand lives until now. The country is fortunate that the rate of infection and fatality has subsided lately. That is what the statistics published by the directorate general of health services (DGHS) show. There are, however, sceptics who take the DGHS data with a grain of salt while arguing that the number of Covid tests in Bangladesh is so low that it is hard to get a real picture.

No matter what the actual situation is, the majority of the population appears to be unconcerned. Most have overcome the fear of getting this highly contagious disease anytime anywhere. It is very much evident from the activities of people on the streets, in market places, hotels and restaurants. Hardly 10 per cent of the people outside their houses wear masks. One may dispute the rate, but the fact remains that a small percentage of people across the country is adhering to the safety guideline. Had they followed it faithfully, the country would have gone in the safe-zone by now. Unfortunately, the relevant authorities have been equally negligent of their duties and responsibilities. On the part of the health ministry, virtually there is no strong awareness campaign. Nor there is any provision for punishing people not complying with the minimum safety measures. Instead, top notches in the ministry have been making funny statements on occasions.

The performance of health authorities has evoked plenty of questions since the start of the pandemic in early March. Initially, they were found more or less clueless about the problem. However, that was quite natural because neither the policymakers nor the health professionals did ever face a pandemic of this scale in this part of the world. Why blame them? Even many developed nations have failed to handle the situation properly during the initial months of the pandemic.

But what is about the latter months? Allegations have it that the authorities failed to handle the situation well when the infections and fatalities were at their peak. On many issues, the health ministry did talk about its plans and preparations, but most of those never got off the ground. Yet it came out in the open to claim success when the pathogen turned out to be less virulent.

Hopefully, when the prime minister is talking about adequate preparations to face a possible 'second wave', the health ministry and the DGHS would not repeat its performance in the matters of readying the district-level hospitals.

The countries in Europe and North America are worried about further spike in infections in the coming winter. But it is difficult to say how the virus in this part of the world would behave during the winter. Yet we need to be ready for the worse.

The resources needed to facilitate better Covid treatment in districts should not be a problem. The World Bank (WB) and some other donor agencies have made available funds for the purpose. As early as March this year, the WB announced $100 million to support the government's 'Covid-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness Project. A part of the fund has already been utilised. The government has also allocated a substantial sum in the budget for the current financial year to address Covid issues.

The spending of the government on projects and procurements in the health sector has come under questions in recent times. The anti-graft agency is now looking into some scams involving those. The story of a car driver in the DGHS becoming a millionaire overnight has hit the news headlines. All these stories have caused severe erosion in the confidence level of the people in the activities of the DGHS.

Following all the unsavoury developments in the sector, there have been lots of changes in the health sector hierarchy. It is an appropriate time for them to demonstrate their integrity and seriousness in addressing the issues that have been eating into the vitals of the country's health administration. Bangladesh is one of the lowest spenders on health as the people are required to meet more than 60 per cent of the medical needs from their own pockets. It is time to beef up the government's spending and improve the quality of service in the health sector.

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