OP-ED: The case of Ethiopia

OP-ED: The case of Ethiopia

Photo: BIGSTOCK

(dhakatribune)–When it comes to pandemic management, how has Bangladesh performed relative to the East African nation?

The outbreak of the virus which began in Wuhan, China in late December last year has taken over the world. The first case of coronavirus in Bangladesh was reported on March 8 this year and has mushroomed since, causing a public health emergency all over the country and imposing a countrywide lockdown leads to complete economic shutdown.

In the same timeline, Ethiopia, an East African country with approximately the same public health and health management infrastructure, reported its first case of coronavirus on March 22. Immediately after the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Ethiopia in March 2020, the government of Ethiopia took several public health measures to prevent increased levels of infection.

These included closing all schools and restricting large gatherings and movement of people. Hand-washing and social distancing were the main prevention measures that the government communicated to the general public through various media platforms. But Bangladesh continues to lag behind if in these aspects.

Testing, tracing, and distribution

The Ethiopian government’s rapid initial response was crucial. It introduced strict passenger-screening protocols at Addis Ababa’s International Airport. The Ministry of Health, local, and regional governments jointly conducted house health screenings of more than 11 million households containing 40 million people in the capital and provinces.

Diagnostic testing was scaled up from zero in early March to over 5,000 tests per day by May, though it continues to be a major challenge and the results so far are salutary.

The Ethiopian authorities have implemented a strict regime of rigorous contact tracing, isolation, compulsory quarantine, and treatment, converting public university dormitories to increase the capacity of quarantine centres to over 50,000 beds. They established additional isolation centres with a total of 15,000 beds, and set up treatment centres with a 5,000-bed capacity.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh is sharply falling behind on testing measures. The nation of 165 million people has conducted less than 1 million (918,272) samples, with a 19.43% infection rate, since the first case of infection was detected in the country on March 8. Furthermore, the government has imposed charges for coronavirus sample testing. Meanwhile, positive cases of Covid-19 and the death toll are on the rise.

Economic measures

The Ethiopian government encouraged production and other economic activities to continue during the crisis. The Ethiopian government understood that country’s success in combating Covid-19 would depend on the public health measures taken to contain the virus’s spread.

So, to prevent serious damage to the country’s economy, safeguard and prevent job losses, and ensure firms’ survival, it has encouraged production and other economic activities to continue during the crisis, thus considerably easing the pressure on vulnerable social groups and the informal sector.

The global health crisis caused by Covid-19 has hit Bangladesh’s economy hard. Lockdowns are having a crippling effect on workers and businesses across the country. The economy has almost come to a standstill, and the debilitating effects are being observed in almost all sectors.

The government has already announced financial incentives for countering the impacts of Covid-19 and is also executing various social safety measures, but its success heavily depended on many external variables, whereas the Ethiopian government has been constrained by dwindling revenues and the need to reallocate budget expenditures to contain the pandemic.

Lessons to learn

The Bangladesh governments must recognize that they are facing not only a public health emergency but also a multi-dimensional crisis with long-term implications. Standard policy prescriptions, therefore, will not work.

The Ethiopian government has relied heavily on community mobilization and public awareness campaigns which have proved to be effective and cost-efficient. It has also relied on the country’s prevention-based primary public health care infrastructure and the health extension system that was built up during the last two decades.

Bangladesh can also utilize its existing community-based health care system and implement innovative policies to overcome.