Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia region. She has talked to Prothom Alo about Corona Virus (COVID-19) situation in this region. She has mentioned how the Corona Virus pandemic started here in this region, its nature and the way it has been going, its sequence of spreading, health management of the countries, what should be done, and challenges to stop this pandemic. The interview has been taken by Soumya Bandyopadhyay, correspondent of Prothom Alo in New Delhi.
Prothom Alo: Corona Virus pandemic started in China last year. After that, before it started to spread in South Asia the countries of this region got a few months to prepare to face the pandemic at the beginning of this year. Do you think countries of South Asia have successfully utilized that chance?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: The first case of COVID-19 outside of China in the South-East Asia region was identified in Thailand on 13th January of this year. Countries of this region started to put an observation in their ports once China ensured the spreading of the virus. The step was taken to identify the visitors who have symptoms of the Corona Virus. Isolation centers have been set. Before the identification of the first case, the countries started to train their health workers about this disease and got their hospitals ready. Whatever information was received to them about the virus, they tried to let the people know it. There were lockdowns in some countries in this region, which was a great chance to enhance capabilities. This process is still on. Governments have taken steps in such a speed and range that we’ve watched and still watching them doing it, for that we can say the top leaders tried to engage every field in this to fight this pandemic.
Prothom Alo: Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are adjacent countries. It seems Pakistan has handled the pandemic quite well. It’s somewhat been controlled in Bangladesh as well. But it has spread terribly in India. What is the reason behind this situation?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: India and Bangladesh are a part of the South-East Asia Region of the World Health Organization. But it’s really not possible to compare a country to another. Even in a country, there are challenges, capabilities, and Virus infected situations that vary from place to place.
The pandemic is spreading globally. We saw the number of infected people has gone down and later again started increasing in the same places in different parts of the world. Therefore, we can’t presume that the situation is in control in some specific places.
There are several reasons for which the number of infected people is increasing in India. The most important fact is that in recent weeks the testing program has increased a lot and the identification of people who got in touch with infected people got increased. India put a great priority on testing programs that they are now testing 10 Lacs in a day, which is the highest in the world. Health authorities emphasize main steps like testing, identification of patients, identification of people who got in touch with infected ones and giving them proper treatment. The strict implementation of behavioural things to fight Corona is also needed with this. The behavioural things are social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands with soap or soapy water, etc. If these two things can be implemented properly and if every person tries to do that only then the chain of spreading Corona can be broken off.
Prothom Alo: Which county in South Asia do you think is the best in fighting the pandemic?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: All countries keep taking combined attempts. Like I said before, we can’t compare a country to another. Countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka who invested a lot in long term healthcare management are succeeded in fighting this pandemic early compared to others. Then, we have to think about the special challenges of countries like Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia as well. To fight any contagious disease including Corona in these countries is a challenge because of their area, population, population density, geographical diversity, and socio-economic situation. Despite that, they have been trying so hard.
Prothom Alo: How is the nature of Corona in Bangladesh? At which level is the pandemic in this county?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: Bangladesh is at the level of community transmission. This means the virus is spreading in such a way that the source of its infection is not possible to know. Even then a good result has been seen since Bangladesh govt. have taken combined attempts, early identification of disease, health-related, and other steps. These steps helped to reduce the pressure on healthcare management to take care of too many patients by limiting the number of infected people. These steps helped to reduce the percentage of spreading infection and that way limited the number of people who need medical treatment.
Prothom Alo: The death rate is low compared to the number of infections in Bangladesh. What could be the reason for this? Could it be herd immunity?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: WHO is working closely with the health and family welfare ministry to respond to COVID-19. In which the work of documenting death records due to the virus is also included. A herd-immunity is achieved here – there is no related data and technical evidence to say this.
Besides this, the capability of healthcare service is being tried to be increased. For this, human resources and other equipment are being provided and health workers are being trained to prevent and control the infection, to identify the people who got in touch with infected patients and about their treatment management.
Prothom Alo: Do you think Bangladesh is testing comparatively less to identify the virus? What are the pieces of advice that WHO gave the govt.?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: WHO is working with the health ministry to increase the capability of testing COVID-19 in the country. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was only one laboratory. Now, there are 92 laboratories all over the country that are working on testing COVID-19. Bangladesh is following the observation related guidelines of WHO. Districts and areas where news of less identification has been reported, there is a plan to increase the capability of laboratories in those places. So that every doubtful case can be tested, separate people from infected ones, and identify people who were in touch with infected ones and test on them as well.
Prothom Alo: Do you think the steps Bangladesh govt. took are all accurate? Is there any lacking?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: Bangladesh is having a combined attempt by engaging healthcare management, govt. officials, security forces, and local groups in this. Like all the other countries, Bangladesh is also facing the problem of not getting enough provision of COVID-19 related equipment and for this, international barriers as well. Moreover, it’s been an extra challenge to fight this COVID-19 pandemic for Bangladesh since it is a too populated country.
Then it is also important to keep the emergency healthcare on in a country during it is fighting a pandemic like COVID-19. The emergency healthcare has been disrupted because of COVID-19. We have been already putting the vaccination program back in its previous state and encouraging to put the necessary healthcare for non-contagious diseases, maternal healthcare, and newborn baby healthcare completely into effect.
Prothom Alo: In this present situation, what steps can Bangladesh take to control Corona Virus?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: Currently, for Bangladesh, the mixed steps that have already been taken at local levels to prevent this disease should be kept on. At the same time, enough capability needs to be ensured to provide necessary treatment facilities to the people who got infected by COVID-19.
Since the restriction is being lifted out, it is important for the people to understand that the Virus is still in effect at the local levels. Because of this, ample prevention management has to be taken and regular reviewing of this thing needs to be kept on. Such as wearing masks, to keep social distance, and washing hands regularly. People have to be very aware of these things.
To save the people who are at risk of death, they should be on the priority list in all the countries. Educated and capable people should help others alongside themselves. Countries should concentrate on the basic things of public health. Which are, to look for infected people, separate them, test them, and identify people who got in touch with infected people and stop people from getting in touch with infected ones.
Prothom Alo: What could be the possible period of time when this Corona pandemic will be in control of this sub-continent?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: It’s hard to guess. Globally, the pandemic situation is still on the rise.
Prothom Alo: In the future, what should Bangladesh do and what should not?
Poonam Khetrapal Singh: No countries can show laxity in taking safety management to stop Corona Virus from spreading. We have to keep taking combined attempts to deal with Corona Virus.
Photo credit: WHO Twitter
Original News: Prothom Alo