Now that the Covid-19 epidemic has well and truly arrived in Bangladesh, the country must brace itself for a very difficult few months ahead. We have seen the number of cases go up exponentially in the past week, and worryingly, so has the number of deaths. As of April 16, there are now 1572 confirmed cases of the disease in Bangladesh, with 60 deaths. According to the New York Times, cases in Bangladesh are doubling every 2.5 days, making the country's caseload the fastest-rising in the world. The health minister has finally admitted that "community transmission" is widespread in the country.
This week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a $1.7 billion relief package for farmers affected by the restrictions, part of a government stimulus worth $11.3 billion so far. The government extended the nationwide holiday again by eleven days until April 25. In Dhaka and Chattogram, garment workers have protested layoffs and wages withheld for three consecutive days. Authorities are preventing anyone from entering or exiting Cox's Bazar, where nearby refugee camps house nearly one million Rohingya refugees. Although just one case has been confirmed in Cox's Bazaar, experts fear transmission in the densely populated camps.
The number of tests we are conducting is still not up to par. Thankfully, the technical glitches that had created problems in the production of Covid-19 testing kits at the Gonoshasthaya Kendra pharmaceutical factory in Savar have been addressed, and the healthcare organisation plans to hand over the kits to the government for approval for mass production by April 23. A team of Gonoshasthaya-RNA Biotech, a sister concern of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, has developed the kit called Rapid Dot Blot, which can detect coronavirus infection in 15 minutes. The team, led by Bijon Kumar Sil, included Nihad Adnan, Raeed Jamiruddin and Firoz Ahmed. Bijon was among the researchers who had developed a kit to diagnose SARS coronavirus in 2003. Their Rapid Dot Blot is patented under his name.
In the weeks and months ahead, Bangladeshis will need to pool all the resources they can, as well as call on all their reserves of homespun genius, to tackle what in all likelihood is going to be a public health crisis. Years of mismanagement and neglect have left the public health infrastructure creaking under the weight of a massive population. We have some experience of dealing with epidemics - remember dengue is endemic in Bangladesh. But a respiratory disease with human-to-human transmission presents a whole new challenge at a whole new level.
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