The novel Coronavirus continues to cause havoc around world with its utmost cruelties and casualties. A second wave pandemic cannot be ruled out by the Heath Minister. On 10th August he said,
“The number of new cases and deaths decreased. Patients are not coming to hospital for test as they are getting treatment at home, one kind of confidence grown among people for fighting coronavirus.”
However, media reports show that Bangladesh is the country with 29 highest death toll. However, the virus is spreading globally. Our country is not immune. Thousands of people have died, the economy and healthcare system have been crippled, many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. We cannot deny the fact that Bangladesh is the second most affected country after our neighbouring country India.
It has been observed that lockdown has made women from poor homes suffer the most. Their children are also affected and share the anxiety of economic hardship that their parents face. This situation has tremendous effect on emotional and mental well being.
Research funded by Australia National Health and Medical Council, showed that in Bangladesh, 96% of families had their monthly income decrease, while 91% of families faced economic uncertainty. 47% of people were below the poverty line (earning TK 160 or 1.9 dollar per day), 70% have been facing food insecurity, and 15% either faced food crises or could not even have one meal a day. Women and children have suffered the most from malnutrition. Without proper nutrition, children suffer from poor growth, disease, eye problems, heart disease, poor concentration and mental retardation. These affected women and children are most likely to fall ill during the coming winter if the second wave hits Bangladesh. Other people who are below the poverty line, as well as tribal minorities must be prioritised too.
There is a dire need for nutritional food to be provided to this vulnerable group of poor people. There is an urgent need to identify vulnerable groups, support them with good nutrition in order to develop better immunity. Vulnerable women with children must receive the highest priority from the Health Ministry to supply nutritional food. Cases of domestic abuse have increased during lockdown, especially among the low-income group due to food insecurity, and the challenges of maintaining families. Economic hardship also exacerbates these problems.
Experts state that malnutrition is a big problem in developing countries like Bangladesh, even though it was self-sufficient in food before the pandemic. Hence, the gap between the rich and the poor, which was closing, is now widening as a result of the pandemic. It is therefore imperative to develop a healthy food policy to help crores of people across the country to access good nutrition. Coronavirus is neutral and will target anyone, but society is not. People on the lower rung of the ladder face serious crises due to employment, and they do not have access to incentive packages like Govt. employees, who get compensation ranging from Taka 5-50 lac when they fall ill. They rely on the generosity of rich people. They must receive urgent attention.
In 1958, WHO stated that health encompasses “a state of complete physical and mental and social well-being”. The pandemic has wrought havoc to health and wellbeing. The Health Ministry needs to formulate a new healthy food policy in collaboration with agriculture, health & family welfare, women and child development and rural development. Motivated by WHO’s principle, a Covid Health Task Force must be created to coordinate efforts to protect and support the most vulnerable people. This is a better, and more humane strategy compared to the Health Minister’s misleading comments about patients not testing because he thinks the country is free from Coronavirus. The Health Minister cannot afford to live in denial.
By Barrister Jahanara Imam
(Chairman, Barrister Jahanara Imam Manob Kollan Songtha).Collection-Haji Md. Yusuf.