As raging Covid-19 continues to claim lives and affect livelihoods, some corporate giants in the Chattogram port city have extended a helping hand to people in need.
They have demonstrated their responsibilities to society – from offering oxygen to Covid-19 patients gasping for breath, to sending medicines to providing people, who suffered lockdown-triggered income losses, with cash and food.
When Covid-19 infections escalated in multiples since the first cases were confirmed on 8 March 2020, oxygen demand was skyrocketing in Chattogram just like in other parts of the country.
Some companies and businessmen started cashing in on the oxygen crisis by raising its prices in the port city.
But others stood apart and supplied oxygen and medicines to save lives.
The frontline helping companies, such as Mostafa Hakim Group, GPH Ispat and Abul Khair Group, are refilling thousands of oxygen tanks free of cost every day.
PHP Family and KSRM and a few others like these companies distribute food and cash among poor people; Albion Group has given free medicines.
A rare gesture from the private sector in Chattogram – they have distributed around 80% of their medical oxygen produced in their factories free of cost to hospitals for Covid-19 patients, imported oxygen cylinders by air on an emergency basis and gave them to patients for free, and set up oxygen banks at the ward offices of the city corporation to make oxygen available at people's doorsteps.
The companies also set up central oxygen plants in hospitals, which have helped reduce the oxygen crisis in the city.
Out of their social and corporate responsibilities, they stood by people who required help. They said if all people come forward with whatever they have, any crisis can be dealt with easily.
For example, Tahmina Haque, a Covid-19 patient from North Kattoli in Chattogram, was undergoing treatment at her home.
Last Friday, she suddenly started having trouble breathing with her oxygen saturation dropping below 95%.
She needed supplemental oxygen but her unemployed husband Mahfuzur Rahman was struggling to buy an oxygen cylinder at Tk10,000 – around double the regular price.
Eventually, Tahmina's husband was able to manage an oxygen cylinder for free, thanks to Mostafa Hakim Group.
"In the last five days, we have refilled it [oxygen cylinder] several times from them for free. Without such help, it would not be possible to save my wife," Mahfuzur said.
Like Tahmina, thousands of Covid-19 patients are getting help from these corporations.
Mostafa Hakim Group
In May 2020, Mostafa Hakim Group imported 1,000 cylinders – 500 by air and another 500 by the sea – from China at Tk1.1 crore and made an oxygen network at the 41 ward councillor offices in Chattogram city for distributing to people in need.
After the second wave of Covid-19 hit, the business group has now employed 20 representatives for distributing oxygen cylinders to every ward. They also supply oxygen to different upazilas in Chattogram.
Last year, the group distributed 4,900 cubic litres of medical oxygen a day on a complimentary basis against its production capacity of 5,200 cubic litres at their Sitakunda factory. This time, the supply continues based on the demand of the people and hospitals.
Besides, they have given food aid, such as rice, oil, onion, lentil, potato and soap, to over 1,00,000 people and distributed medical equipment and set a central oxygen system at the Sitakuna Upazila Health Complex, company officials say.
The company also re-constructed a cremation ground for Hindus in the city's Kattoli area when funerals were hampered because of flooding.
When contacted, Mohammad Sarwar Alam, a director of Mostafa Hakim Group, told The Business Standard, "We have been doing humanitarian work for the past 25 years. When a crisis emerges, we always try to stand by people. We spend a lion's share of our profit as CSR [corporate social responsibility] every year. During the pandemic, we have increased it many times just to save lives and out of our responsibility to people."
In July last year, GPH Ispat, one of the leading steel manufacturers in Bangladesh, donated 1,000 oxygen cylinders to government hospitals in Chattogram through district administration and the civil surgeon.
GPH Ispat commissioned a 250-tonne capacity oxygen plant in July last year. The plant can produce around 22 tonnes of liquefied oxygen, which is now being given free to different hospitals and people for refilling tanks.
The company has appointed 11 new people and bought a truck for an uninterrupted supply of oxygen to hospitals not only in Chattogram city but also in rural areas.
They give oxygen free of cost and transport it to hospitals by their people. When the second wave hit the country, they kept their plant open 24/7 to ensure an uninterrupted supply of oxygen for medical purposes.
"The people of the country made the GPH Ispat such a corporate. Without thinking about profits, we have come forward to help people out of our moral responsibility," said Almas Shimul, additional managing director at GPH Ispat.
"We have kept our factory open 24/7 for supplying oxygen. Alongside hospitals, anyone can come to our factory and refill cylinders for free. Our team always remains alert. Whenever any text message comes from a hospital and the civil surgeon, they rush there with oxygen," Almas added.
"As India has imposed a ban on oxygen export, we need some machinery to enhance our existing plant's production capacity, keeping in mind the future needs of medical oxygen. With increased capacity, we will be able to produce 70-80 tonnes of medical oxygen every day," he added.
Abul Khair Group
Abul Khair Group has been providing oxygen for free since the pandemic made inroads into the country last year. They have distributed oxygen to hospitals and food.
They have refilled over 10,000 oxygen tanks since March 2020 from their oxygen plant - AKS Plant in Chattogram.
When the second wave started, the company increased its medical oxygen production from 10 tonnes to 22 tonnes from 28 April this year.
It provides liquefied oxygen to local companies – Lindy Bangladesh Limited and Spectra Oxygen Limited for supplying to hospitals. The money earned through oxygen sales will be donated to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
Md Imrul Kader Bhuiyan, senior manager and in-charge (HR & Admin) at Abul Khair Steel Melting Limited, said they came forward to increase oxygen production to address the ongoing crisis in the wake of India's ban on its supply.
"We have provided over 5,000 oxygen tanks across the country. We have also developed central oxygen supply systems at 20 hospitals since March 2020," Imrul added.
"To ensure uninterrupted oxygen supply for the people in need, Abul Khair Group's ongoing effort will continue," he also said.
Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said, "Oxygen is very crucial for Covid-19 treatment. With no oxygen supplies from these companies, there would have been a disaster in Covid-19 treatment."
"We are providing oxygen to upazila health complexes with their help," added Rabbi.
During the first wave of Covid-19 in Bangladesh, PHP Family provided a one-month package of food items such as rice, oil, lentil, onion and potatoes to 10,000 people. It has also donated Tk2 crore to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
During the second wave, the group has adopted a new strategy for their 10,000 employees, company sources say.
The company has taken a decision to stand by their employees by giving 10 bonuses for Covid-19 and Ramadan along with the regular one for Eid-ul-Fitr.
PHP Family said an employee got their bonus – 11 times of their basic pay – on 5 May.
When contacted, Mohammed Akther Parvej, director of PHP Family, said, "This time, we gave additional bonuses to our colleagues to boost their morale in these trying times."
KSRM, a leading steel manufacturer, has also extended its helping hand to people with food and cash aid. The company said they have given cash aid to at least 5,000 people alongside distributing food items. Each was given Tk2,500-Tk3,000 in cash.
Albion Group, a Chattogram-based drugmaker, distributed medicines and hand sanitisers and masks worth Tk50 lakh during the pandemic.
Besides, they have distributed food among the destitute. They mainly gave medicines at several isolation centres and hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.
Raisul Uddin Saikat, chairman of Albion Group, told TBS, "This time, we want to serve people, rather than making profits. So, we have stood by the people and the government to tackle the pandemic situation."