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Corona in Bangladesh - Reflections on the last year

Written by Antje on April 7th 2021 19:35

Last month I received quite a few questions about Corona in Bangladesh, so here are some reflections on the effect of the virus on life here.

8th March 2020 is when the first person in the whole country was tested positive. Three people had returned from a trip to Italy. One of them died 10 days later. After 4 days’ warning, strict lockdown began on 26th. This was in contrast to the sudden lockdown in India: at least in Bangladesh people had time to return to their home villages. Schools had closed already, on the 15th.

Public feeling was very different than it is now. Then, it was blind panic. All that people knew about the virus came from TV images broadcast from Italy.

Our staff thought that they would certainly die if they only came near to a corona patient. We put a lot of effort into educating people about washing hands and keeping distance. We also installed extra washing facilities for staff and patients to clean their hands and worked hard to secure protective gear for the staff. We started quickly running out of anything at all that could be used for protection.

Our goal then was to keep receiving and treating as many ‘non-suspected’ patients as possible. Right from the start, most of the private clinics were shut but we didn’t want to follow their example. We set up pre-triage so that patients could be screened using a check list and thermometer, and a ‘verbal prenatal check’ so that expectant mothers with a cough or fever could receive advice from a doctor, and a separate emergency room for patients short of breath.

An isolation ward with 10 beds and an isolated delivery suite were also prepared.

All in all, the pandemic turned out to be really not as bad in our region as it could have been. We have only seen a handful of patients who were suspected of having Corona. Some were transferred to state-run Corona centres which weren’t very busy, and others were admitted to our isolation ward. We have had not even one single seriously ill patient.

There are several reasons why patients here haven’t gone down badly with it. People in the country are younger than in the Netherlands and there is hardly any obesity. There is also the theory that in a land such as Bangladesh where there is so much TB, the population has more resistance to Corona. Whatever the reasons, we are really thankful that we haven’t experienced much of a pandemic at all.

Until recently it was thought by some people that Corona must be a disease only caught by the affluent. We must all officially wear masks outside (practically nobody does) and keep our distance (impossible for Bangladeshi people). In practice, apart from government institutions, everything stays open, often with simply a sign saying ‘No mask, no service’ on the door.

Last month vaccinations started, using the AstraZeneca product. 50 million doses have been donated by India. Not really much for a population of 170 million. It will only be administered initially to those most at risk. The uptake was not really very enthusiastic because of fear of adverse reactions read about on Facebook. Everyone over 40 can now have their first jab. Quite a few of our staff have had their first dose and this month they are eligible for their second. As far as we know, there were only the 50 million doses available. I don’t yet know what the plan is when these are all used up.

o far, the vaccine has not been available to foreigners except embassy staff, so I myself have to wait and see…

Sadly, the schools still remain closed. Tragic for school children. Online teaching is officially recommended, but hardly at all accessible for the majority.

In recent weeks cases have risen again in the capital. The authorities have enforced stricter measures there which are often vaguely formulated so that we are questioning if they actually have any real consequences for our daily work life here.

Since Monday after Easter we have been in official lockdown again. No buses or trains are running and shops are closed. This is for one week apparently, but it’s unclear if it will actually only be a week long. This is reflected in our patient numbers, it’s very quiet in outpatients.

Our major concern is whether visas can be renewed for some of our essential staff. We are continuing to pray that we’ll be able to get them in the next few months. In the whole year that’s past, not one person has been able to obtain security clearance, which is the first step in the long visa process. Security clearance normally lasts for 5 years and mine is valid until 2023.

Here are some photos of our hospital during the Corona period.

First aid for patients with shortness of breath:

Eerste hulp

Pre-triage patient screening:

Pre-triage

Doctors helping each other put on protective clothing:

Beschermende kleding

Christmas service held outside in order to maintain distance:

Kerkdienst buiten

Living with a mask:

Mondmasker

Visiting the office of the head of all NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in order to enquire about the rejection of our visas:

Verhaal halen visa