COVID-19 seen from a leper house in Khulna

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A new very strict lockdown was imposed in Bangladesh on 1 July. People cannot leave home for any reason and there are no means to move, except by rickshaws, whose prices have doubled.

An attempt is underway to control a pandemic that has not yet reached its peak. I think the numbers of cases is underestimated. According to official sources, Bangladesh has reported 955,000 cases with 15,000 deaths.

If before large cities were mainly affected, now with the arrival of vaccines the situation is reversing. The “hottest” areas are those on the border with India, while cases have declined in urban areas.

People have not fully grasped the gravity of the situation. Many people go around without a mask, and social distancing and disinfection are far from being applied. People who have been infected often do not tell their contacts. Some decide to isolate themselves, while others continue to lead a normal life. Consequently, the number of unreported cases is certainly high.

There is great social stigma, but the problem of poverty is even greater. It is hard to make daily labourers understand the situation if they face the risk of dying from hunger because they cannot work due to the lockdown.

If the poor stay at home and don't work, how can they buy food? This question affects my choices regarding the hospital. As soon as I returned from Italy, I made sure that the children who work with me and their relatives were vaccinated.

As soon as the second dose was done, vaccines were no longer available in the country. All this tells me that once again there is a special protection for us and I do not think it is accidental, because we are thus able to continue our work with tuberculosis and leprosy patients. Protected by the vaccine we can do and give more.

I don't know what will become of the country; it could end up like India. We are starting to run out of oxygen. People are demanding the health minister resign. Yet, life goes on.

Yesterday I was talking to a patient who comes in for treatment. She is a very intelligent, lively young woman, who worked in an office and caught tuberculosis in a hospital operating room during a medical procedure.

With COVID, she and her husband lost their jobs and can now eat only thanks to her sister’s generosity. Thanks to the almost daily visits, she began to confide in me. Yesterday she told me that she thought she was pregnant but thank goodness it turned out that she was just late.

I told her to be careful and try to avoid becoming pregnant now, but as I explained the periods to pay attention to, she replied: “Do you think my husband listens?” I asked her what her husband was like: He beats her and, in her home, things are done only as he says. She then told me: “You were right not to get married, getting married means ruining your life.”

I tried to make her understand that I too am married, in another way. She is a Muslim, but she told me that she understood and that for sure mine is the best husband you can find. In her eyes I was lucky, she was not.

This is a situation we deal with every day. Our patients keep coming, with their illnesses, their pains and their hardships and they help us in some way to keep our feet on the ground.

I ask the Lord to continue giving me the strength and ability to be close to my people like this, without ever getting tired, without ever trying to put my interests first.

The strength comes to me from the Lord, who never stopped making me feel his closeness, his care, and his comfort, so that I too can continue to be the same for these people.

Sister Roberta Pignone, an Italian nun with the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception, is a medical doctor. Since 2012, she has run Damien House, a medical facility located in Khulna, that treats leprosy and tuberculosis patients. Courtesy PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions).

  • Coronavirus
  • Covid-19
  • Lockdown
  • Pandemic
  • COVID-19 seen from a leper house in Khulna

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