As Bangladesh reports new coronavirus cases and experts predict a possible dengue outbreak, the country's health sector braces for an unprecedented impact but doctors say the worst-case scenario can be avoided if everyone works together.
Dr Edward Pallab Rozario, head of health programmes at Caritas Bangladesh, said dengue and coronavirus (COVID-19) cases occurring simultaneously will create a situation which will be very difficult for the government to handle it alone.
Two recent surveys found aedes mosquito larvae at an alarming level at the two Dhaka city corporations and experts warned that the overcrowded megacity will likely see another massive dengue outbreak this year too, if the larvae are not destroyed before the monsoon.
A large number of dengue cases overwhelmed the country's medical system last year with hospitals struggling to accommodate patients.
Kabirul Bashar, an entomologist at Jahangirnagar University, said dengue patients in January-February period (139) is more than double that of last year's (56) in Dhaka, indicating that the situation will be far worse if proper steps are not taken right now.
Dr Rozario concurred, saying: "The level of preparation needed to face coronavirus outbreak is lacking here. And if we add dengue on top of that, then we don't have adequate preparation to tackle the whole situation."
On War Footing
Bangladesh has taken prompt steps to contain the situation, asking expatriates not to return home for now and ordering compulsory quarantine for anyone coming back. Travel has been restricted to and from infected countries and the landports have been closed temporarily.
Although many have been urging the government to shut down educational institutions to prevent the spread of the virus, officials say the current situation does not call for such a drastic measure.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said medical teams have been deployed at airports and quarantine wards have been kept ready at "every hospital" across the country.
But Dr Rozario feared that Bangladesh will not have enough hospitals and staff to provide ICU support if there is a simultaneous outbreak of coronavirus and dengue.
Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad, the principal of Dhaka Medical College, affirmed that they have been working on coronavirus since December and took preparations considering all the factors.
"The Army will be called out, if necessary. Bangladesh's health sector is capable of handling a small scale outbreak," he told UNB. "A large scale one will be a disaster."
COVID-19, which was first reported in China's Wuhan, has been labelled as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as many countries grapple with a rise in confirmed cases.
The USA has declared a national emergency while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said with the absence of vaccination, up to 70 percent of the country's population could be infected.
Bangladesh reported its first cases on March 9. Two of the patients had returned from Italy while the third came in contact with one of them. All three recovered but the country reported two more cases on March 14.
Prof Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said they are "fully prepared".
"We've work plans for specific situations ... we're training our staff, particularly those at ICU, so that they can handle critical cases," she told UNB.
'Awareness Is The Key'
UN Secretary General António Guterres said it is a time for prudence, science and facts, not panic.
Doctors said proper awareness and preparation can make all the difference in Bangladesh's fight against COVID-19 and mosquito-borne dengue which killed 164 people last year.
Dr Rozario emphasised raising awareness. "The level of awareness needed to tackle the situation is not there," he argued.
Abul Kalam Azad, Director General of DGHS, said city dwellers must be aware to keep clean their houses and adjacent areas to prevent dengue.
Health Officer of Dhaka North City Corporation Brig Gen Md Mominur Rahman Mamun said they are conducting mosquito extermination and awareness activities in vulnerable areas.
"We've to start working now before the disaster strikes," Dr Rozario said.
Dr Azad urged people to refrain from social gathering for at least the next two months to avoid person-to-person transmission.
He said due to lack of awareness people are not properly going through home quarantine, which Dr Flora called "the most feasible system for quarantine" under current circumstances.
He said everyone has to remain alert and work together to prevent the spread of both diseases. "Coronavirus is mostly a self-limiting disease. Some people who are sick can be seriously affected," Dr Azad said.
"Anyone feeling sick (with coronavirus symptoms) should immediately go to dedicated hospitals. If you've light cough or sneeze, please stay at home and follow the doctor's directives."