Covid-19 and Resilient Villages in Bangladesh
From theoretical and conceptual point of peoples view, the term resilience is very much designated to bring a situation back to its original atmosphere which requires an initiative of the community people themselves who are the stakeholders and also live and stay in that community. While dealing with any natural and/or man-made disaster, community people usually play an important role in terms of their resilience which is very much appropriate for the recent coronavirus pandemic disaster that shattered globally the whole human society at large. Based on separate studies of Reuter and John Hopkins University, it is documented that as many as 4,929,455 people are infected by this COVID-19 virus globally and among them, 324,063 have already died throughout the world.
Bangladesh has also not been spared by this disaster as the IEDCR's report has already counted a total death of 386 people in the country affecting at least 26738 infectors with a recent average of at least 1400 new victims every day. Being initially urban-centered, the virus now spreads over the villages and remotest parts of the country including Myanmar's genocidal Rohingya victims, now being temporarily sheltered in crammed camps of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. While the government is taking right move by focusing economically on urban industrial areas uplifting many poor people, but the peasants and villages are not however ignored. Recent declaration of incentive packages of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has included the village people in a special program supplying them food and money as part of the relief program. Additionally, she has also added a special incentive package for the farmers.
Leaving aside all these economic assistance, it is now urgently felt that the villagers in Bangladesh are to be made resilient under this COVID-19 pandemic situation for their own protection and accordingly a kind of community initiatives has to be taken concerning the disease. In absence of any epidemiological prevention and medicinal discovery until now, non-pharmaceutical interventions with action-based social mobilization programmes having been sponsored by Government and non-Government organizations may go for solving the problems. Awareness about the disease in rural areas has to be created considering poverty and affordability of the villagers as economic capacity of all people in the villages however, is not the same. Awareness campaigns also should accompany the distribution of leaflets containing all explanations regarding hand-wash, distance maintenance, behavioral way of sneezing and coughing reflected in writing and also being presented pictographically. But in my view, the most important strategy is to organize social mobilization programmes involving the community people of different categories, status groups, gender and ages. We need to identify ways in which social distancing can be practiced in congested localities like markets, prayer houses and communicate these to the public.
In encountering COVID-19 in rural Bangladesh, we have to be careful about the social stigma that remains associated with this ailment which may retard the diagnostic rate through exclusion. With so much social stigma associated with COVID-19, people may now be tempted to conceal their symptoms. Our government and health practitioners in the country will achieve better results if the people remain sincere and transparent in reporting about COVID-19 symptoms. This will bring fruitful results if campaigning about social stigma associated with the disease is addressed properly.
Otherwise, they may also try to flee away from quarantine facilities and isolation wards at hospitals, creating an arduous task for the authorities who eventually will have to trace them along with identifying the persons they have so far interacted in the last few days. It is to be noted here that social stigma in the villages often influences the decision-making about our health which requires to be dealt with due consideration. We have to create such an atmosphere so that people do not get scared about staying in quarantine.
In fighting a virus at this pandemic situation, people needs to get an idea that remaining in quarantine does not mean that they are ostracized; the infectors must have a realization that they are simply isolated for their own betterment as well as for the wellbeing of their family members and community people. People need to be convinced that although it is extremely difficult to be separated from one's family members and spending time in isolation, but nonetheless, it is the only way to be cured from the disease which allows an infector to save his family members from the virus. From that perspective, instead of implementing decisions from the top, the villagers should undergo with rigorous learning process approach generated through social mobilization programmes of participatory approach. Since many non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) due to their professional commitment have such access in getting involved with the people at the grassroots village level, programmatic government interventions with specific targets may conveniently include these organizations to reach the people.
Contextually, being consistent with World Health Organization and also based on Government guidelines, THP (Trillium Health Partners) volunteers of Hunger Project in Bangladesh recently are found handing out leaflets, making masks, preparing hand sanitizer, providing soap to those villagers who are living in an extreme poverty. Side by side, their volunteers and workers are also establishing hand-washing stations near to important locations in rural villages.
I suggest that BRAC, UNDP and many other national and international NGOs should volunteer such programmes being partners of the Government and administratively our Government may go for coordinating the program by including all other villages in the network to implement this model throughout the country. Considerably, I may remind here that our Local Government Minister has recently proposed a special program for helping the poor and lower middle class people in various parts of Dhaka City by making a list of needy people from both the regions of North and South City Corporations reaching them during the crisis. Contextually, he is trying to seek logistic support of UNDP, BRAC and the NGO Bureau to assist him in making a total list of the people who will be provided economic support in the form of money and food in phases. In a recent televised program on May 19, 2020, titled, 'COVID-19 Resilient Villages' organized by the Hunger Project in Dhaka with the Planning Minister Mr. M.A. Mannan, we have been able to let the participants realized the significance of such model where a GO-NGO joint effort performs strongly reaching people at the grass roots level with a target to make the villages resilient.
Involving the women in the design and implementation for awareness campaign on COVID-19 is another important strategy for resilience where dissemination of ideas with executing guidelines at the family levels in regard to their protection will be easier. In this context, social workers and the working teams at the villages may send out information through women's informal networks for spreading awareness about the virus throughout the villages. School children in the family and senior women of the households may also work for disseminating the preventive measures required for facing the vulnerabilities and making the villages resilient. We may note here that during the early years of independence in 1972, United Nations praised Bangladesh people's resilience under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman showing remarkable progress through comprehensive programme of rehabilitating the people in the country. Now, the country is led by our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who keeps proper eyes to face such criticality of COVID-19 and certainly we will be able to overcome our vulnerabilities to make it resilient.
(Prof Dr. A.H.M. Zehadul Karim is a former Vice Chancellor of a public university in Bangladesh, now teaches at Jagannath University).