Without a collective Covid response, we’re just running in circles
At almost every step of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bangladesh has suffered from a number of recurring setbacks—prominent among them a failure to put experts rather than bureaucrats in the driver's seat, lack of coordination among the implementing agencies, lack of public engagement, etc. Add that to the systemic challenges associated with the execution of any government plan/scheme: corruption, incompetence and lack of transparency. The cumulative effect of these hurdles is that we're still no better at containing the virus than we were in the initial stages of the pandemic, when any policy failure could be attributed to a lack of experience. What's our excuse now?
From forcing RMG workers to take biblical journeys to their factories in the middle of nationwide lockdowns to arbitrarily rolling out or withdrawing those lockdowns to botching up Covid-19 treatment, testing and vaccination schemes—the administration has made similar mistakes all too often, at great cost every time. So even after nearly a year and a half, we remain caught up in a vicious cycle in which we are either doing too little or too late, owing to the monopolisation of the Covid response by the government. Experts in a recent virtual event, therefore, have stressed on the need for joint, coordinated efforts to tackle the pandemic with the involvement of civil society and local communities. At the centre of this call is a realisation that collective and coordinated efforts of the public and private sectors can have a better and wider impact, as an informed, willing and empowered populace can hugely bolster the efforts of their government.
There are already local examples that the government can draw inspiration from—like the Coronavirus Resilient Villages (CRV) initiative initiated last year in about 1,200 villages in the country, which has shown promising results. This initiative, undertaken by The Hunger Project, has been built around the proven notion that public engagement, including through effective communication, is vital, and that only individual safety of each person can ensure the collective safety of everyone. Experts, therefore, suggest that such a model should be implemented at the upazila level at first, reviving the Coronavirus Prevention Committees in Unions and aligning them with other such community-led platforms and initiatives. NGOs can play a big role in this. Lessons from this example can then be used to implement collective efforts across the country.
The important thing to understand here is that the government must allow experts and citizens to be a part of its planning and implementing apparatus, rather than letting bureaucratic deadweight come in the way of essential services. There have been too many mistakes and too much suffering already, and too many lives have been lost, largely because the government refused to loosen its grip on Covid-19 management by including experts in the process. It's time it saw the error of its ways.