1. IDENTIFY CORONA VIRUS HOTSPOTS
2. ESTABLISH NATIONAL TASK FORCE
3. MORALE BOOST FOR HEALTH WORKFORCE
4. INVOLVE & INTEGRATE NGOs, YOUTH & GRASS-ROOT ORGANIZATIONS
5. EFFECTIVE TARGETING & IMPLEMENTATION OF FISCAL PACKAGE
6. REVIEW HEALTH SYTEM WEAKNESSES
7. INSTITUTIONALIZE PUBLIC HEALTH SOCIAL CAMPAIGNS
8. EXPERT PANEL ON MACROECONOMIC RESPONSE AGENDA
Led by Power and Participation Research Center (PPRC) and BRAC Bangladesh Chair Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, a group of public health experts, non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders, and macroeconomists came together on 2nd April to devise a plan to combat the interlinked health and economic crisis of COVID-19 in Bangladesh. The short-to-medium term action agenda focused on how civil society members can collaborate with the government to respond to the crisis quickly and effectively.
On the health front, a total of six (4 short-term and 2 medium-term) action points were formulated. To identify exactly where we stand on the infection curve, it is vital to identify the hotspots of the coronavirus infection. As an alternative to the standard testing methods, Dr. Zillur Rahman suggested “looking at the rates of respiratory diseases and deaths relating to that in certain areas.”
For better coordination and communication among all public, private and non-profit bodies, a national task force is required. The task force will help expedite the approval process on PPE and testing kit supply chains and help to monitor system preparedness on hospital care.
It is also important to boost the morale of individuals working at the frontlines of crisis response such as healthcare professionals, law enforcers, and journalists. This can be done via financial incentives or otherwise to ensure they continue to work with the same fervor and to the best of their ability. Many non-Corona patients are also being denied access to healthcare due to the focus on corona victims. This should also be a topic of discussion for health sector managers.
Social distancing is critical to flattening the curve and preventing virus transmission. This key message is yet to be delivered and enforced effectively, especially in cases of social and religious events. The best way to communicate this is to engage individuals, civic platforms, NGOs, youth-led and grass-root organizations. Living hand-to-mouth, the poor are still forced to leave their homes. The urban slums most inhabit also lack hygiene practices. Hence social safety-nets remain the only way to enforce the concept of social distancing among these low-income groups.
Weaknesses in our health system in terms of preparedness and response to health crises such as this must be reviewed and addressed. Public health must be prioritized. Even when this crisis is over, its experience will be key in nudging the nation towards improved public health and hygiene standards.
In the economic context, one short- and one medium-term action plan have been suggested. The stimulus package announced by the government must reach those who truly need it. These vulnerable people, numbering around 40 lakhs, must be correctly identified, and their food security and necessities ensured for at least a period of two to three months. The entire process should be monitored by a third party to promote efficiency and reduce leakages from the system.
Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh suggested that a smooth supply chain of farm produce must be ensured by the government. If not, prices of such goods may fall, and the farmers adversely affected. Dr. Rahman drew attention to small farmers and micro, small and medium enterprises who are experiencing economic shocks due to the shutdown. “A large number of people working in saloons, restaurants and small businesses have no jobs. The challenge is how to help them restart their businesses after the pandemic.” These groups should be given government incentives to prevent their eviction from factories or shops in case of failure to pay rents, added Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh.
Finally, as a medium-term action plan, it has been proposed that an expert panel consisting of the government and professionals be established to address the imminent downturn in the economy.
It has been 98 days since the novel coronavirus was initially reported in China, and 31 days since its report in Bangladesh. The entire world has been put to the test of dealing with a rapidly evolving public health crisis and its unprecedented effects on the global economy. The 8-point action agenda delineated above has been designed to urgently address the health and economic crisis of the corona pandemic.
The call to action is a collective initiative of Hossain Zillur Rahman, Chairperson, BRAC Bangladesh, and Executive Chairperson, PPRC; Rasheda K. Chowdhury, Executive Director, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE); Dr. Rashid E Mahbub, Prof. of Surgery, BSMMU & Former President, BMA; A.M.M. Nasiruddin, Former Health Secretary & Senior Fellow, PPRC; Dr. M.A. Faiz, Former, Director general, DGHS; Ahsan H. Mansur, Executive Director, PRI & Chairman, BRAC Bank; Atiur Rahman, Former Governor, Bangladesh Bank; Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC; Farah Kabir, Country Director, Action Aid; Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Adviser, JPG School of Public Health, BRAC University; Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD; Mohammad Abdul Wazed, Former Director-General, BBS & Senior Fellow, PPRC; Dr. Dibalok Singha, Executive Director, DSK; M. Ehsanur Rahman, Executive Director, Dhaka Ahsania Mission, and Md. Abdul Karim, Former Cabinet Secretary, Govt. of Bangladesh.