Coronavirus could be the catalyst that helps save more lives than it kills. Coronavirus is a stop-what-you're-doing wake-up call.
At present, a sense of panic and fear has enveloped the world. Even your loved ones have the potential of being seen as your worst enemies. Never before has the world been more united in war against an invisible-to-the-eye silent enemy than it is now. Never before has an enemy been so real and totally without religious or political prejudices. Coronavirus just doesn't care. Young, middle-aged, old... it doesn't care. It's void of all the usual patriotism, hang-ups and it's totally indiscriminate and impartial.
A pandemic like coronavirus can bring out the best and worst humanity has to offer. It can engender an "everyone for themselves mentality and who gives a damn about everyone else" or bring approach to the situation with understanding and compassion.
In Bangladesh, we have seen immoral shop owners seeking to take advantage of, and profit from, worried people during this health crisis by charging exorbitant amounts of taka for what would normally be cheap protective facemasks. Those shop owners do not deserve patronage when the crisis dissipates.
As the proverb tells us, every cloud has a silver lining and that also applies to coronavirus.
The Government of Bangladesh has campaigned to educate and get their citizens to form the habit of washing their hands regularly with soap and water. I, too, have contributed dozens of column inches in support.
The coronavirus pandemic has paused the world in its rotation and given governments a chance to think protection for its people. The issue of health has been skyrocketed to a dizzy height never before seen. Coronavirus is the number one topic on the lips of people everywhere, irrespective of the language in which it's spoken.
And while it commands attention (and somewhat due respect) now is the time for the Government of Bangladesh (and the media) to hammer home the importance of cleanliness. The people are now listening and paying attention as never before.
It's a scientific fact that washing hands has the potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention.
Countless people suffer unnecessarily in Bangladesh from diarrhoea, dysentery and other stomach ailments as a result of ignorance and improper hygiene practices.
We are all familiar with passive smoking and its alleged dangers, but a plethora of horrifically greater dangers, unseen by the naked eye, lurks silently and menacingly in our everyday environment, continuously threatening our health 24/7. Coronavirus is only one of them.
It is common knowledge in most parts of the world that hand hygiene is of vital importance for the overall well-being of society and washing the hands is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
Most politicians and celebrities carry disinfectant-soaked cloths they use after shaking the hands of their public. (And it's recommended that you wash yours after shaking theirs!)
Washing our hands regularly with soap and clean running water (hot or cold doesn't matter) can help stop the spread of germs and prevent illnesses like influenza, bronchitis, swine flu, diphtheria, measles, conjunctivitis, leprosy, chicken pox, coronavirus, scabies and among many more. Just by washing the hands has the potential to save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention and billions of dollars in medical expenses and medicines.
There are more than 3.5 million children under the age of five who die every year from diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia - and many are preventable.
Although many people clean their hands with water, medical science tells us that's not enough. Soap MUST be used.
In view of the resources the government is spending to get people to wash their hands I was shocked to find no soap or any means to dry my hands in the Passport Office and other government offices I visited.
Hospitals, diagnostic centrer, doctor surgeries, and such like in Bangladesh should practise what they preach and set examples in hygiene. People take diseases to hospitals to be cured of them, not accrue more!
There can never be enough emphasis on good hygiene practices such as washing your hands with soap and running water, cleaning all utensils before cooking and keeping cooking places clean to prevent communicable diseases. Even at that there are no guarantees of a disease and discomfort-free existence, but the odds are stacked in your favour.
While TV, magazine and newspaper adverts and posters are productive and play an essential and supporting role in conveying the vital messages and importance of hand hygiene to the masses, TV soap operas reign supreme, but in Bangladesh they are totally under-utilised.
People tune-in to soap operas to see a reflection of their own mundane boring lives on the small screen in hope they will find escape from, or solutions to, the problems they themselves face. While a 30-second commercial has the power to help convince the viewer s/he should be using brand-X toothpaste, no doubt a 60-minute 'real-life' soap opera has the power to influence the thinking of the entire family.
To harness this enormous subliminal power effectively, it is essential that TV scriptwriters play an active patriotic role and are encouraged by the government and TV bosses to write scenes into their dramas that promote good hygiene practices (and other important society-benefitting issues) for the profit of the nation.
While the entertainment value of soap operas themselves might be questionable, they can at least serve and help protect the health of their viewers by promoting the proper and beneficial use of soap. After all they are soap operas!
Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper publisher and editor, an award winning writer, a humanitarian, a Goodwill Ambassador and a foreign friend of Bangladesh.
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