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Bangladesh is emerging out of its worst wave of the pandemic. Daily infection rates have dropped below 10% for the third day in a row. Schools are set to re-open after the longest closure in the world, and BRAC is supporting the Government of Bangladesh’s push for mass vaccination. Read more from Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC:
Dear colleagues, partners and friends,
Bangladesh is emerging out of its worst wave of the pandemic. Daily infection rates have dropped below 10 percent for the third day in a row. This follows a typical pattern. Since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has often followed a regular cycle.
In one country after another, the number of new cases has often surged for roughly two months before starting to fall. The Delta variant, despite its intense contagiousness, has followed this pattern. The question is whether Bangladesh is on the same path or not. That being said, the evidence on the effect of vaccinations in terms of reducing deaths and hospitalisation has been clearly established in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is doing better than before in terms of stockpiling vaccines from various sources. Large procurement orders have been placed. There is no reason to think there will be another major disruption in the supply chain like last time.
Returning from a field visit in Cumilla, I can vouch that there is a huge appetite across the country to get vaccinated. The last wave has made everyone – in rural and urban areas both – take COVID-19 more seriously. From a resident of a remote char, to an imam from a sub-district, no convincing is needed to get them vaccinated. The question is how soon will they arrive.
BRAC is proud to have supported the Government of Bangladesh in the last national mass vaccination drive. We directly managed nine vaccine centres in Dhaka, where more than 19,000 people have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 1.58 million people were vaccinated at 3,000 BRAC-supported centres in rural areas. We are looking forward to supporting the government again in the next drive, scheduled for 7-13 September.
In the meantime, there has been major awareness in terms of mask wearing. However, with the recent decline in infection, we observe people being adventurous and taking their masks off more often than is ideal for the safety of all. Reinforcement of mask-wearing and other COVID-compliant behaviours must continue more than ever, if we want to avoid another deadly wave. This is the time to invest in long-term behaviour change.
Reinforcement of COVID-compliant behaviour across communities is the most important element of the Community Forts for Resisting COVID-19 project which BRAC is carrying out with 41 local organisations, with the support of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). I am glad to report that the project is continuing to show promising results.
You may also have seen the data and the media coverage coming out of the largest study on masks in Bangladesh by three US-based academics and their team. On 3 April last year, Professor Richard Cash and I called for rigorous studies on mask usage and hand-washing. We are happy to report that this study done by a Bangladeshi-American economist, Professor Mushfique Mubarak, and his colleagues, provides exactly the kind of rigour that is required for policy makers in the global south who are focused on a fine balancing act of saving lives and livelihoods.
Professor Mubarak’s team and BRAC’s health programme worked closely together when the scale-up of our Community Fort project started in June, to incorporate the learning from this study. Our close collaboration can be a model for how future research is linked with policy prescription and scaling up on the ground.
The biggest news this week, however, is the reopening of schools in Bangladesh. The government has finally announced a reopening date for schools after almost 18 months of closures – the longest in the world. This is a very positive move. The next newsletter scheduled to come out in two weeks, will focus entirely on education and the reopening of schools in Bangladesh.
During my visit to Cumilla yesterday, I went to BRAC Academy, a new fee-paying model of school that we are piloting, catering to middle- and low-income families. The school, which has gone online, has lost almost 50% of its students due to drop-out for economic reasons and reverse migration during the pandemic. Prospects from the field for families with lower incomes are quite bleak. So all those who care and work for education in Bangladesh, we have our work cut out in the coming days.
We would like to offer thanks to a new set of non-traditional partners from the private sector whom we have onboarded since my last letter. Grameenphone, BRAC Bank, Mutual Trust Bank, Eastern Bank, Mercantile Bank, Dhaka Bank, Bank Asia, United Commercial Bank, Standard Bank, Exim Bank along with Climate Bridge Fund staff, joined hands with us to support families hit the hardest by the pandemic, under BRAC’s Dakche Abar Desh (Bangladesh calls again) campaign. So far, BDT 233 million (USD 2.7 million) have been raised and distributed to 140,583 households.
Asif Saleh is Executive Director of BRAC in Bangladesh.