A Joint Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Shasthya Andolon, Odhikar, Jonoshasthya Sangram Parishad, Sramabikash, and Anti-Tobacco Women Alliance
Bangladesh government’s inadequate measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic has put the citizens’ right to health into a serious danger. The lack of preparedness, failure to assess the potential outbreak in a densely populated country and reluctance to allocate appropriate resources, denial of access to factual details of the overall situation by the Bangladesh government, and the latest instances of handling the suspected cases suggest that the situation is highly worrying.
The government has assigned the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Re-search (IEDCR) – as the lone entity – to test coronavirus suspects, manage the treatment and control all the information regarding COVID-19. The official claim that no other lab, except the IEDCR, in Bangladesh has the required facility, technical hands and re-quired level of biosafety protocol, lacks credible evidence. While more patients are be-ing found to be infected with the Corona-virus in Bangladesh, the officials declare that there is no need to visit the IEDCR office to give samples as the virus can spread through the infected people. The IEDCR team will collect samples from home after no-tifying via hotline numbers; although affected people have been complaining of non-response of these hotline numbers. Bangladesh, after testing around 20 patients suffer-ing from atypical pneumonia the IEDCR claimed there is no community transmission case of coronavirus in the country. Allowing potential infected patients to stay with their family members in the name of “home-quarantine” without any monitoring arrangement is being criticised as a highly unprofessional and irresponsible move on the part of the authorities. There are also reports of refusing treatment to suspected patients having symptoms of COVID-19.
In fact, the authorities could not hide their unpreparedness from the foreigners as the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming said Bangladesh was at high risk of coronavirus infectionas it was spreading in the neighbouring countries. The Ambassa-dor’s public comment on the danger of grossly inadequate screening systems at the land, sea and airports has not changed the situation.
The country’s experts raise question whether IEDCR, which is not accessible 24/7, has the required competence of addressing a health emergency posed by COVID-19 pan-demic. It is not convincing how the health authorities will provide treatment to the COVID-19 patients while the entire country’s healthcare system is equipped with only 500 Incentive Care Unit (ICU) beds for a population of around 180 million. The entire country has some 1700 testing kits for diagnosing COVID-19, which exposes the gov-ernment’s lack of seriousness to address the pandemic, yet after three moths since the outbreak. The government has not made any convincing attempt to enhance the ICU facilities and other necessary emergency treatment capacity of the country since the outbreak. Instead, it has centralised the facility at an institution, which itself is poorly prepared, in the capital city that is ranked the third most polluted and un- liveable city in the world, which can only make matters worse.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) characterised the COVID-19 as a global pan-demic and urged all countries not to ‘give up on stopping the outbreak’. The global health rights body has called on countries of South-East Asia region, including Bangla-desh, to urgently scale-up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as confirmed cas-es crossed 480, and the disease claimed eight lives in the region. In Bangladesh, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 detection is reportedly 14 and till now there is one confirmed case of death.
The highest attainable standard of health, as a fundamental right of every human being, is enshrined in the WHO’s Constitution. States have a legal and moral obligation to en-sure access to timely, acceptable, and affordable health care of appropriate quality and ensure “maximum available resources”. This is even more necessary, when there is need to meet the challenge of a global pandemic.
The WHO, as the global health rights body, and Bangladesh’s development partners cannot maintain silence while the COVID-19 is affecting the whole world. The WHO protocol adopted by the WHO-China Joint commission on COVID-19 also suggests that countries with confirmed imported cases have to immediately expand surveillance by testing all patients with atypical pneumonia. Without maintaining standard procedures and testing only 20 samples of atypical pneumonia cases it is premature to reject the possibility of community transmission in the country.
The epidemiological disease control in Bangladesh, ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, has failed to gain public trust. The government urgently needs to ensure: 1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are provided for the frontline health workers with proper briefing on the symptoms of the disease and their immediate and long-term objective actions; 2. Adequate financial and trained human resources to tackle the health emer-gency; 3. Accessible testing kits, isolation facilities at hospitals across the country, trac-ing the potential infected patients; and, 4. Affordable treatment without any discrimina-tion. The situation seriously deserves effective public awareness on social distancing internally and externally followed by committed attitudes of the healthcare profession-als to provide service to the people.
The government needs to ensure sanitisation facilities for the public, particularly for the workers of the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) and other formal and informal sectors. Bangladesh needs to extend its cooperation to the international aid agencies so that the Rohingya refugees living in the shabby make-shift camps in Cox’s Bazar are provided with sanitisation facilities and adequate testing and treatment arrangements for COVID-19 outbreak.