Behavioural change is one of the keys to breaking the Covid-19 transmission chain, experts have said.
"Every citizen needs to participate collectively for behavioural change to happen," said Mushtaq Hussain, adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), at a webinar organised by The Hunger Project and Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh on Sunday.
"This is key to countering the coronavirus pandemic which is wreaking much more havoc than the Spanish Flu pandemic did," he said.
Last April, The Hunger Project launched Corona Resilient Villages (CRVs) across the country to expand outreach, increase awareness campaigns and engage communities.
The CRVs have a committee to carry out Covid-19 safety guidelines. So far, there are 129 committees comprising 3,651 members.
"We found that, more or less, 79% of people in these CRVs wear masks," said Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, country director, The Hunger Project.
"What is still lacking is contact tracing, isolation or quarantine of suspected Covid-19 patients. The Delta variant is exceptionally contagious. We are seeing a 30% infection rate now and most hospitals are functioning at full capacity," he said.
Dr AJ Faisel, public health adviser for Sylhet division, said, "To break the chain of Covid-19 transmission, three measures have to be taken without any compromise – a) masks and hand wash, b) increasing Covid-19 testing and c) vaccination campaigns."
"For instance, I heard about one individual in a small village in Bhaluka who fell sick but claimed it was just the seasonal flu and refused to get tested. Now there are 35 people in the village infected with Covid-19 within a span of 10-12 days," he added.
Anir Chowdhury, policy adviser to a2i, stressed the role of wearing masks. "It is possibly the most important tool in our fight against this virus," he said.
Referring to the past "strict" lockdown where the government decided to exempt factories for five days before Eid, Dr Lenin Choudhury said, "I wish there was a cost-benefit analysis. I would like to know the monetary loss from keeping garment factories closed for five days prior to Eid against the loss of lives to Covid-19 caused by five days of factory operation."
"Moreover, we have to work in solidarity with policymakers and healthcare professionals. Frankly, we do not know how longer we can sustain the brunt of the pandemic. We are overwhelmingly tired. It has been 1.5 years. We are absolutely spent," he added.
Mohammad Shahiduzzaman, member of parliament of Meherpur-2, stressed solidarity and the importance of village volunteer teams that are working for Covid-19 awareness.
"This pandemic cannot be overcome only by medical treatment, as evidenced in countries around the world. We need awareness and engagement of people," he said.
"Right now, there are whole families in villages infected by the virus, and they do not even have anyone to cook for them."
Salima Sarwar, executive director of the Association for Community Development, spoke about the dire situation in Rajshahi, one of the most affected regions by the Delta variant.
"Community clinics, especially in remote places, are not adequately equipped. We saw how the virus spread through Rajshahi and its impact on our limited healthcare resources," she said. "The use of the CRV model can prove to be effective in raising awareness."
Swapan Kumar Guha, executive director, Rupantar, stressed the need for localising Sustainable Development Goals in the context of grassroots communities.
"Three elements are very important in order to work together and successfully combat the pandemic – people, elected representatives and the grassroots society," said Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar.
Professor Rounaq Jahan, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), raised an important question. "Is there any dataset for community organisations or perhaps a national strategy to cover those? Everyone is talking about community mobilisation and engagement, but is the government taking corrective measures? They should."
CPD Chairman Professor Rehman Sobhan strongly advised to focus on one area. "Let us say one upazila. Covid-19 safety guidelines will be implemented there, and it will be used as a model that can then be used on larger scales."
"If we are to take away anything from this discussion, it is that there is no alternative to human involvement to overcome the pandemic," said Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow at the CPD.