Bangladesh loses doctors to COVID-19

A Bangladeshi doctor wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gear attends to a patient. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 June 2020

Bangladesh loses doctors to COVID-19

  • Nearly 1,200 healthcare workers contract infection with 36 deaths reported

DHAKA: Dr. Sabrina Arif Chaudhury says working with fear was not something she ever expected as a heart surgeon in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Everything changed in April when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak began to spread across the country, infecting thousands and killing mostly doctors on the frontline.

“Every moment, I live with the fear of becoming infected. My life has changed completely. I haven’t visited my ailing father for the past three months despite being a practicing doctor. It hurts me a lot, but I am helpless,” Chaudhury, who works at the National Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (NICVD), told Arab News on Sunday.

Coupled with the risk of contracting the deadly disease is the added stress of putting in 12 hours of work, as opposed to the usual eight, to support the strained health sector during the pandemic.

Longer shifts have meant fewer hours with her two children and husband, whom she hardly gets to spend time with due to the stringent social distancing measures.

“After returning home at the end of an extremely stressful day, I have to stay away from my two children as I can’t risk infecting them. My family life has been disrupted completely,” Chaudhury added.

Her reactions are not exaggerated.

As frontline workers dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the country, Bangladeshi doctors are now some its foremost victims. At least 36 doctors have died from the disease in the past two months alone, according to the Bangladesh Doctors’ Foundation (BDF).

As of Sunday, around 1,200 doctors had tested positive for the disease.  

“We are losing senior doctors of the country, which is an irreparable loss for the health sector. I am anxious about the situation,” Dr. Nirupam Das, chief administrator of BDF, told Arab News. 

Das reasons the high rate of death among doctors is owing to the fact that several of them had been brought in from adjacent areas to treat infected patients in the capital.

“Those who deal with clinical and preclinical patients are the most affected. Also, while treating severe COVID-19 patients in intensive care, doctors are exposed to the aerosol-generating procedure, which makes them more vulnerable to a high dose of infection, with severe consequences for their health,” Das said, adding that out of the 100,000 registered doctors, nearly 80,000 are dealing with COVID-19 patients, increasing their chances of contracting the virus. 

Dr. Mohammad Mushtaq Husain, public health expert and adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, said there are other reasons for the high fatality count as well. These include a lack of testing facilities in the early stages of the pandemic, scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors, and lack of doctors’ familiarity with PPE use and disposal, to name a few.

“In many cases, patients visited doctors with COVID-19 symptoms and later on, many of these patients tested positive, resulting in the doctors being infected also. Sometimes, patients hide their symptoms, which invariably impacts the doctors treating them,” Husain told Arab News. 

“All is not lost,” he said, adding that he expected the situation to take a turn for the better due to an increased testing capacity and doctors becoming “more cautious and familiar” in the use of protective gear.  

According to Worldometer’s COVID-19 tracker update, Bangladesh ranks 18th in terms of the total number of infected people. In contrast, it ranks 10th in terms of the daily increase in infection rate, with 90,000 cases as of Sunday.

However, that is little solace for those who have lost loved ones in the country’s battle with the disease.

Although time has passed, Dr. Khaleda Yasmin Mirza says that she still cannot come to terms with her husband’s passing. Dr. Mirza Nazim Uddin had served at the front line during the outbreak, before he succumbed to the disease himself.

“He received the best treatment in the hospital. Doctors from home and abroad joined hands to treat him. From the onset of the outbreak, he was cautious and took maximum precautions as a doctor. I think, despite everything, he contracted the virus from an undetected patient,” Mirza, who works as a gynecologist at the Square Hospital, told Arab News. 

Authorities, for their part, are unrelenting in their efforts to limit the pandemic.
As of Sunday, a total of 317,000 people have been tested, with 60,785 placed under quarantine, according to a statement by the Directorate General of Health Services.

Additionally, 59 laboratories are equipped to test virus samples across the country, with half of these located in Dhaka.

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

This picture taken on October 13, 2019 shows Indonesian migrant workers gathering near Victoria Park in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Back to work: Jakarta lifts ban on sending workers to MENA

  • $260m revenue boost to accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery amid pandemic

JAKARTA: After a four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesia is set to send almost 90,000 migrant workers to overseas countries, including those in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.

The move will deliver almost 3.8 trillion rupiahs ($260.8 million) in foreign remittances, officials said.

Migrant workers could begin leaving within weeks after the Manpower Ministry issued guidelines to conform with the country’s pandemic protocols.

“In order to boost the national economic recovery and considering that several countries have reopened to foreign workers, we think it is necessary to allow Indonesian migrant workers to work in destination countries, while complying with health protocols,” Manpower Minister Ida Fauziyah told a press conference.

She said migrant workers whose employment had been suspended in recent months could generate about 3.8 trillion rupiahs in revenue and their remittances could accelerate Indonesia’s economic recovery, especially in their hometowns and villages.

Fauziyah said the decision was made after consultation with domestic stakeholders and was based on updates from Indonesian embassies and trade missions abroad.

The government focused on 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Kuwait, Maldives, Nigeria, the UAE, Poland, Qatar, Taiwan, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe — that wanted to welcome foreign workers back, despite the pandemic.

“We appreciate the ministry’s decision to lift the suspension, even though the reopening is still only to several countries,” Kausar Tanjung, secretary-general of Indonesian Labor Exporters Association (APJATI), told Arab News.

Most APJATI members are exporters of domestic and informal workers, who make up more than half of the 88,973 migrant workers whose departures to 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had been put on hold since March.

Ayub Basalamah, chairman of APJATI, said that it was time the March ministerial decree was revoked, adding that the association was “ready to comply with the health protocols in place” as part of the new rule.

The ministry said that Kuwait is willing to welcome workers from Indonesia in all formal sectors except health, while Algeria is opening its construction sector and Qatar its oil and gas sector. Indonesian workers in Turkey and the UAE will be allowed to work in the hospitality sector.

Placement of Indonesia’s migrant workers in the UAE is in line with a temporary travel corridor agreed between the two countries.

The agreement was announced last week to help business people, government officials and diplomats, and is based on a $22.9 billion investment deal signed during President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January this year.

The APJATI said it will send domestic workers with secure employment to Hong Kong and Taiwan soon, while neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam remain closed to foreign workers in the informal sector.