Groping in the dark, silencing other views

Groping in the dark, silencing other views

The leader of the Chinese expert medical team compared Bangladesh’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, to groping around in the dark. The team was in Bangladesh for two weeks to share their experiences and to provide advice. During their stay, the team inspected various hospitals and virus detection methods. They also exchanged views with a number of government officials.

The daily Jugantor asked the team leader, Dr Li, what stage had the coronavirus pandemic reached in Bangladesh and would things be worse in the coming days. And what would China’s advice be in this regard? If this worsened, how could China help Bangladesh?

These questions are in all of our minds. However, raising such harsh questions is becoming more and more difficult, as is evident in the series of arrests being made under the Digital Security Act.

It is common knowledge that a professor of Rajshahi University, active in Awami League politics, faced dire consequences for criticism posted in Facebook. Many similar arrests are being made every day, though these may not always make news. Enough said.

Back to the Chinese expert Li and his remarks. In his interview with Jugantor, there is a blunt and realistic evaluation of situation in Bangladesh, 15 weeks since the outbreak of coronavirus in the country.

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Dr Li said that the context of China and Bangladesh was different. In China we knew where the enemy, coronavirus, was and so we managed to fight it while maintaining all protective measures, he said. In Bangladesh the situation is different. Here the problem is that it is difficult to locate where coronavirus is and so it is hard to tackle it. He said that they felt it would be possible to overcome the situation with effective lockdown, rapid testing, contact testing and increasing the scope of medical treatment.

Zimbabwe’s health minister was arrested due to corruption in the procurement of PPEs for health workers. In Kosovo this March, the prime minister lost in the parliament vote of confidence and had to resign for not taking effective measures to tackle the pandemic.

China’s socioeconomic structure was also different from that of Bangladesh, he pointed out. In China, lockdown meant a hundred per cent lockdown. The affected areas were divided into high risk, medium risk and low risk zones and measures taken accordingly. He said that China had good results from contact testing too. Those placed in quarantine were constantly monitored and so they could speedily be treated in accordance with their symptoms.

The recommendations made by Dr Li were similar to those made by the World Health Organization. He spoke of increasing the number of tests, down to a union level. He also spoke of increasing efficiency. He said that further training was required regarding all forms of protection for the health workers, including how to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

It has been around four months or 15 weeks since the first coronavirus cases were detected in Bangladesh, but the authorities are still groping around in the dark. A couple of other countries faced a similar situation, but in those countries many people are being held accountable. Zimbabwe’s health minister was arrested due to corruption in the procurement of PPEs for health workers. In Kosovo this March, the prime minister lost in the parliament vote of confidence and had to resign for not taking effective measures to tackle the pandemic.

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It is different here. Our politicians have been inactive since the outbreak of the pandemic. It is doubtful whether even one fourth of the cabinet ministers were active during the general holiday. It is the bureaucrats who are in the driver’s seat when to come to rescuing the country from the crisis. But the lack of planning and preparation, the empty rhetoric and the corruption, has simply led to a spate of promotions and transfers.

The pictures that appear in the media of the harassment and suffering faced by people going for sample tests or for any sort of medical treatment, point to nothing but groping around in the dark. Further indications of such a contention are the police excesses in quelling different views. And reality is even harsher than the pictures, as bitterly felt by those seeking medical attention, whether for coronavirus or not.

Criticism and satire are part of political culture all over the world. Politicians are even criticised after they die. Churchill is subject to debate and controversy. Joseph Stalin now in Russia is compared to a butcher. So during this pandemic, it is totally unacceptable to send critics and journalists to jail, putting them at risk of contracting the virus.

The VIPs had imagined that the Combined Military Hospital would have enough space for them, but when this proved to be wrong, then the Sheikh Russel Gastroliver Hospital was opened up for them. Now coronavirus treatment is gradually being started up at the ‘five-star’ hospitals of the city for the wealthy. But when it comes to the limited number of government hospitals, overcrowded and overflowing with common people, then all measures seem to come to a standstill.

Projects such as setting up permanent or temporary hospitals, ICUs and arranging for ventilators, are all based on fund commitments from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other foreign donors. These tasks could have been planned six months ago in January, implemented in March and April and now been in effect. If we can declare ‘expenditure first, earnings later,’ to fulfill our dream growth, then surely this stand could have been taken when it came to saving people’s lives.

Then there is an effort to establish the contention that it has become difficult to control the virus transmission because the common people are not adhering to the rules of hygiene. But the people who are spreading such a contention, are hiding the fact that it is because of conflicting and contradictory information and decisions that the general people are in a confused state.

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The biggest truth that is being hidden is about the incompetence and failure of those in charge. In order to cover up their own lacking, no steps were taken to organise experienced and skilled persons outside of the administration and the party. No minimum initiative was taken to reinstate the government physicians and nurses who had gone into retirement over the past three to five years.

Rising above narrow party interests to carry out humanitarian duties can be so meaningful, as seen in the example of a BNP councilor in Narayanganj who, along with another leader, is voluntarily carrying out the funeral rites and burial of persons who have died from coronavirus. Innumerable people and organisations have come forward as volunteers all over the country.

A political initiative for national unity to tackle the crisis could have had an effective impact. But this has been ignored. On the contrary, anyone pointing out errors of the government, has to face the Digital Security Act.

Criticism and satire are part of political culture all over the world. Politicians are even criticised after they die. Churchill, held in such high esteem after the defeat of the fascists in World War II, is now subject to such debate and controversy. Joseph Stalin now in Russia is compared to a butcher. So during this pandemic, it is totally unacceptable to send critics and journalists to jail, putting them at risk of contracting the virus.

Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist and columnist