Even as Bangladesh recorded its first death from COVID-19, tens of thousands of people gathered in Raipur in the south of the country to pray “healing verses” from the Quran to protect the country against the pandemic.
While authorities discouraged mass gatherings, they haven’t offered much else to build confidence they are adequately responding to the crisis.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) is currently the only facility with the capacity to run the coronavirus test for a country of more than 164 million. Testing is only available in the capital city, Dhaka, so the thousands who gathered to pray in Raipur, for instance, cannot be checked for the virus. There have been reports that IEDCR’s hotline is not working, but meanwhile, some hospitals are apparently refusing treatment to patients displaying symptoms.
Countries all over the world are struggling to manage this global crisis. Bangladesh is no different. But since it is already struggling to provide a basic health care infrastructure in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, this global pandemic will be a major challenge.
Bangladesh has shown capacity to respond, as it has when confronted with climate and other disasters. With the pandemic, that means a rights respecting and responsive leadership that avoids censorship, builds public trust, and cares for those most at risk. It means ensuring access to both accurate and timely information regarding COVID-19 and that scientifically and medically appropriate health facilities, goods, and services are available in sufficient quantity and quality without discrimination and affordable to all.
So long as who lives or dies from this virus is dictated by wealth or geographical access to health care, most Bangladeshis will be left relying on prayers.