Bangladesh epitomises handling of Coronavirus


Published on February 21, 2021
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Ajoy Dasgupta:

Across the length and breadth of the country, the spree now going on among the people from all walks of life is registering for the coronavirus vaccine and waiting for one’s turn. While some adults might have some apprehension about the vaccination, children and women played the pioneering role in eliminating that fear since the posters showing children in the mother’s lap receiving vaccines are a sight Bangladesh has long been acquainted with. As this scenario earned global acclamation, now adults have also queued up to take their shot.

As penned by Shaheen Anam in her The Daily Star-column titled ‘My experience of taking the Covid-19 vaccine’, “I sat back and reflected over my experience. As I looked around my heart filled with pride. Isn’t this the kind of society we want to build? Where everyone would be treated with respect and dignity. A system that does not require one to be a VIP to get quality services. I stood in line with drivers, housemaids, officers, and homemakers. People came in cars, in CNG’s or even walked, but all stood in one line and were required to follow the same rule.”

There is a quarter in the country leaving no stone unturned to sow the seed of doubts about the vaccine among public minds, posing an array of questions – will the vaccines be available, will everyone be entitled to that, will it be effective, what will be the price?

Rumours were circulated that Indian vaccines can at best be either murky river water or vaccines for roosters and geese. But, now the entire world approves that the Oxford vaccine, seven million doses of which made it to Bangladesh, is cheap, producible at a mass scale, and preservable at the temperature provided by a regular refrigerator. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undertook the initiative that enabled the people of Bangladesh to receive quality vaccines, effective in this climate, even before many developed countries.

Moreover, she took no time to announce a package worth Tk 1.2 trillion to avert an economic disaster. Surprisingly, when around two million people in Bangladesh have already received the vaccine, the prime minister of Canada, one of the top-rank developed countries, telephoned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to allocate vaccines manufactured by Serum Institute for the people of his country.

‘Country in branding’ is a common expression. Our branding is anchored to the 1971 Liberation War and the 1952 Language Movement. Over many years, Bangladesh was also known across the world as a country frequented and devastated by natural calamities. In those years, there were ample requests from Bangladesh for relief and aids. Consequently, developed countries or the organisations they control such as the World Bank and IMF used to direct our policies and strategies. Even many scholars considered the World Bank statements as the ultimate truth. Henry Kissinger of the

US and Parkinson-Faland of the World Bank tagged Bangladesh as a ‘Basket Case’ shortly after its independence. Some people of this country took it even another step further, terming Bangladesh as a ‘bottomless basket’.

What makes us portray the country belittlingly? Isn’t our readymade garments industry a positive branding? Will the world turn a blind eye to the concrete houses built by the government for 70,000 Rohingya refugee families and shifting a segment of them from Cox’s Bazar to a securer place in Bhasan Char during the coronavirus pandemic? The day people in Dhaka received the coronavirus vaccine, those living in remote places got endowed with the same service. Even India, where Serum Institute is located, and England, the country of Oxford – the inventor of the vaccine’s formula, couldn’t ensure that smooth distribution. As social media is studded with the pictures of people in Bangladesh getting vaccinated, developed world citizens stand in awe of the service they are yet to be endowed with.

Here we will try to sketch Bangladesh that has a new dimension. The developed world has already recognised that the milestones Bangladesh reached in handling natural disasters are worth emulating. Digital Bangladesh is also a role model for many countries. The way it handled the coronavirus pandemic is also bagging acclamations.

There is no denying that some incidents at the onset of coronavirus left us consternated. When the news of the fake COVID-19 test report business surfaced, some commented that doctor Sabrina Sharmeen Husain and Mohammad Shahed represent where the country is heading. Corruptions surrounding masks and PPE became the talk of the town. But, that is not what Bangladesh is all about and we can realise that now.

It is widely circulated that Bangladesh is politically divided. During critical political junctures, the developed world and international agencies such as the United Nations and Commonwealth made it to the country to settle our dispute. They were eulogised by our media. But what they keep mum on is the risk Hasina took to construct the Padma Bridge even when the World Bank backtracked on its decision to fund the project as they sniffed corruption, an allegation later dismissed by a foreign court.

This too can be the branding for Bangladesh. Some people said that the coronavirus pandemic will catalyse a disaster in the earning from export, hundreds of thousands will come back to the country and remittance flow will stop. Reality proved all those predictions wrong.

As the country made these incredible feats, these will set the stepping stones for overcoming our weaknesses as well. Though we mastered the art of adopting technology, we haven’t yet mastered the art of contributing invention or innovation to world civilisation. To make that happen, we need to chalk out strategies and channel our efforts. A handful of companies made their way to the global market. We can expect one or two of them to be contracted with multinational companies to collaborate on producing the coronavirus vaccine. That will be a new branding for Bangladesh as well.

Writer: Researcher and columnist