Ranjan Roy, PhD.
The world has been facing a quintessential global health challenge – Coronavirus (COVID-19). The COVID-19 pandemic brings with it the third and greatest economic, financial, and social shock of the 21st Century, after 9/11 and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. This pandemic is causing large-scale loss of life and severe human suffering. Health officials state, it is a public health crisis without precedent in living memory, which is testing our collective capacity to respond. As we are in a crossroads, people from all walks of life have to take a collective effort to curb COVID-19.
While countries, cities, and local administrations have accordingly imposed a “complete lockdown,” the UN chief calls to adopt a “wartime” plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This firm desire illustrates the exigencies of the COVID-19 crisis and the urgency of scaling up efforts to combat this pandemic.
Intergovernmental organisations, for instance, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), calls for new global “Marshall Plan” against COVID-19 and urges for a “Joint Pledge” of tackling the COVID-19 war.
COVID-19 is spreading at an astonishing speed in Bangladesh, although the government has been taking a plethora of initiatives for preventing the virus outbreak. People from all walks of life are asking a critical question: how long COVID-19 will last and how much damage will it do to the productive capacities of the economies and the livelihoods of the citizens. This question calls to stringent action that catalyses COVID-19 preparedness, response, and recovery.
The eventual recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must make us more resilient to pandemics, climate change, and other global challenges. Beyond the immediate health policy response, the Bangladesh government needs decisive and ambitious actions to mitigate the economic downturn and protect the most vulnerable, those who were already facing a difficult situation and who will be hit hardest.
First, enabling government, private sectors, and communities to tackle the emergency is vital for truly employing the “all-of-government and all-of-society approach” that has been implemented in China, resulting in averted or at least delayed hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 cases. A combined, coordinated effort is not only crucial for addressing the most urgent priority for minimizing the loss of life and health but also overcoming a major socio-economic crisis, which is still unfolding.
It is almost next to impossible for the government to tackle this COVID-19 challenge alone. Private medical services have a massive capacity in this regard. They can close critical gaps in the acquisition of essential equipment and supplies. Importantly, private hospitals, clinics, non-health ministries (ministries of education, agriculture, women’s empowerment, transport, labour, social welfare, and public services), NGOs, and civil societies could assist the COVID-19 containment and mitigation measures.
The primary aim of containment strategies is to minimise the risk of transmission from infected to non-infected individuals to stop the outbreak. Mitigation strategies aim to slow the disease, and to reduce the peak in health care demand. These measures are the essential public health interventions currently available to minimise the dramatic health consequences caused by COVID-19.
Coordinated action is essential for jointly applying containment and mitigation measures. A lack of this type of activity is already apparent in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. Data from Hubei (China) suggests that the implementation of a comprehensive package of containment and mitigation policies can be useful in suppressing the epidemic in the short-term. Still, it is unclear whether the effect can last in the longer term.
Resource mobilisation, transformative leadership, prompt decision making, and effective implementation are significant to address the emerging health, economic and societal crisis; facilitate coordination, and contribute to the necessary initiatives when confronting this enormous collective challenge.
Second, the government must emphasise on ‘recovering better’ through strengthening national preparedness measures for preventing COVID-19. At national, regional, district and Upazila levels, we need substantial investment in improving technical capacities such as promoting integrated disease surveillance and community-based surveillance, improving essential services and a health-care workforce during crises, upgrading laboratory capacity, reviewing public procurement protocols and logistics, and enhancing precise and targeted communications.
The “National Preparedness Plan” has to answer several questions like is there an event-based surveillance system in place, and is there a functioning respiratory disease surveillance system in place? In many situations, ambitious initial responses are underway, and this is commendable.
The government needs a plethora of prevention and control measures to set an ambitious and agile disease containment effort. First and foremost, firm steps are crucial for controlling the source of infection, blocking transmission, and preventing further spread of COVID-19. Other measures include deploying strategies to reduce the intensity of the epidemic and slowing down the increase in cases.
Mapping knowledge gaps and the timely filing of these knowledge gaps to enhance control strategies are also crucial. Deploying aggressive disease containment effort is vital to defeating COVID-19, evidence from China indicates.
Fundamental to disease containment measures is “proactive surveillance.” It helps to immediate detection of cases, rapid diagnosis and quick case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantining, and understanding and acceptance of these measures by the people. The success of these measures hinges on near-term readiness planning, which has to embrace the large-scale implementation of high-quality and non-pharmaceutical public health measures, i.e., public health education, and promotion.
And, third, reducing social impact and promoting economic response is critical to avoid the biggest threat to the economy and financial markets. This country is imposing nation-wide lockdowns. This strategy puts in place a plethora of COVID-19 protection measures (such as border closures, restrictions of movement, and community quarantines), resulting in significant economic slowdowns and downturns, which are associated with rising hunger levels as FAO reports.
Protectionist policies and strategies significantly affect agricultural and industrial production, supply, and demand. Initially, the country’s fish and dairy producers bore its brunt. For instance, farmers involved with crab, shrimp, and fish production face several export bans resulting in significant economic loss.
Studies show women at the core of the fight against the COVID-19 crisis. Policy responses must be immediate, and the government must account for women’s concerns. Fundamentally, all policy responses to the crisis must embed a gender lens and account for women’s unique needs, responsibilities, and perspectives.
COVID-19 has profoundly changed our livelihoods, jobs, incomes, and small businesses. First and foremost, the Bangladesh government must adopt useful measures to mitigate the economic burden of the most vulnerable people. These measures include meeting the immediate demand (e.g., food needs) of profoundly affected people, boosting social protection programmes, ensuring relief from trade restrictions, and resolving logistics bottlenecks. Moreover, immediate employment and social-policy response are needed to support people and companies to deal with the COVID-19 virus.
Several measures are being applied, although the COVID-19 pandemic is thrusting our economies into an unprecedented deep freeze state, from which emergence will not be straightforward. The Bangladesh government must adopt more robust and more coordinated measures to absorb the growing economic blow.
In tandem, the government could form a “National Task Force” to facilitate a collaborative endeavour; involving parties, civil societies, organisations, and people to win the war against COVID-19.
Likewise, governments should set up a “Global Advisory Board,” comprising world-renowned (Bangladeshi) scientists to combat COVID-19 and post-COVID socio-economic crisis.
To conclude on an optimistic note, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed mobilises strong political commitment along with allocating “COVID-19 stimulus packages.” It is presumed that Bangladesh will tackle the coronavirus war in the immediate future.
(The writer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka-1207. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)