India is in a very critical situation at this moment due to Covid-19 havoc. In India, fresh cases once again touched a peak of 379,257 in a single day while deaths hit a grim new record of 3,645 as reported on Thursday, 29 April 2021.
Let us take learnings at what grounds Bangladesh needs to be prepared if it gets attacked the same way the deadliest double and triple mutant strains of Covid-19 hammered India in tandem with severe medical-grade oxygen supply shocks and vaccine shortages.
Meanwhile, following a farsighted plan, the USA has reportedly secured more than 550 million excess doses that could be used to help end the global pandemic faster. In accordance with the global wants, the Biden administration announced that the USA will release 60 million AstraZeneca doses to other countries that are pleading for help.
In this situation, when the next-door neighbour of Bangladesh is struggling against Covid-19, Bangladesh should redress the status quo and get ready accordingly as mentioned below.
Access to Medical-grade Oxygen should be ensured by forecasting the increasing demand
Health Minister Zahid Maleque stated that the country has no shortage of gaseous oxygen at the time when India abruptly halted its oxygen export to Bangladesh as the country is struggling with the latest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, hospitals in several states of India are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen.
But, it has to be kept in mind that the present demand for oxygen in Bangladesh is around 200 tonnes a day for medical treatment purposes. This has a possibility to elevate at an exponential rate everyday with the upsurge of Covid-19 cases. If it crosses 1,000 tonnes a day, we never know what crisis it may create if we do not have any contingency plan.
To meet up the potential needs, Bangladesh needs to prepare itself firstly by establishing a demand forecasting model for medical-grade oxygen. With the coordinated efforts of the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE) and Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) it should be done.
Secondly, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) should rapidly approve the pending domestic applications for oxygen production.
Thirdly, Bangladesh should start searching for immediate alternative sources of oxygen apart from India. The National Board of Revenue and Ministry of Shipping should instruct all custom stations and land ports, seaports as well as internal ports to release the oxygen imports in any form at the quickest possible time. There should be a time bound approach allowing them no more than 24 hours.
Let us take learnings at what grounds Bangladesh needs to be prepared if it gets attacked the same way the deadliest double and triple mutant strains of Covid-19 hammered India in tandem with severe medical-grade oxygen supply shocks and vaccines shortages
Bangladesh must not fail to ensure medical-grade oxygen supply, and should do everything that it takes, either by producing here or by importing from alternative sources.
Timely collection of the Covid-19 vaccines to be confirmed navigating all alternatives
We have noticed that some developments are going on by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh to ensure sourcing of vaccines from China and Russia. Also, Bangladesh is going for co-production with Russia to make 'Sputnik V' Covid-19 shots here in Bangladesh. But all seem to be time-taking initiatives as of now.
We should also explore the scope of co-producing AstraZeneca here either with the UK or with India. Our proposition should be established by recalling that AstraZeneca signed a deal with South Korea's SK Bioscience to manufacture its vaccine products for local and global markets. Japan is also making AstraZeneca jabs. We should not be late in approaching Japan, a long-standing and time-tested friend of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh decided to buy Covid-19 shots developed by Pfizer-BioNTech through COVAX to ensure coronavirus shots in the greatest needs. It may not sound realistic for the country to ensure a total end-to-end cooling chain maintaining this temperature, as it is required to store this vaccine at minus (-) 70 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, the Special US Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry assured to avail vaccines for other countries if the US has a surplus after mass vaccination. We believe Bangladesh is maintaining deep correspondence with the USA to procure vaccines from there.
Rolling out rapidly to see the applicability of BANGAVAX
BANGAVAX, a DNA plasmid-based Covid-19 vaccine was developed by a Bangladeshi company, Globe Biotech Ltd. After conducting preliminary animal trials successfully BANGAVAX got listed in the 'Draft landscape and tracker of Covid-19 candidate vaccines' by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But, just after that, the nation is seeing a total stagnation in the approval and clinical trial processes through which it can obtain final approval to be used in mass. If we fail to recognise our home-grown innovation, it will just not demoralise the makers but may lead the nation astray by causing insufficiency of Covid-19 jabs supply to tackle this lethal virus.
Forming a national dashboard to monitor real-time production of Covid-19 related medicines
Already, we are seeing piling-up posts in social media that many infected people are not getting certain medicines in the pharmacies or anywhere else. As we already know what medicines are suggested to recover from mild Covid-19, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare should instruct private pharma companies to make these medicines on a larger scale.
An online dashboard should also be created with the assistance of the ICT Division to collect and monitor the daily production of those medicines in real-time.
Enacting an instant flight ban on the countries with 'Double Mutant' Covid-19 B.1.617 variant
According to WHO, the Indian Covid-19 B.1.617 variant has been found at least in 17 countries, listed as a 'variant of interest'.
As of 28, April 2021, according to GISAId, apart from India, B.1.617 variant has been found mostly in the UK, USA, Singapore, Australia, Bahrain, Germany, New Zealand, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, South Korea, Greece, Guadeloupe, Italy, Netherlands, Sint Maarten, Cambodia, Canada, Malaysia, and Romania.
Surprisingly enough, when the Bangladesh government decided to close its border with India for the following 14 days, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) allowed passengers from eight countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Singapore, China, and the UAE. As the double mutant virus exists in Bahrain and Singapore, it is a dire need to put a strict ban on the passenger flights from and to Bahrain, Singapore. Otherwise, partial steps will not benefit Bangladesh in tackling the spread of this deadly strain.
Needless to mention, we urgently need to set up dedicated wards, ICU's, HDU's and prepare the required health frontliners to be deployed for Covid-19 treatment to Upazilla level. Besides, everything cannot be managed from the capital efficiently.
During quarantine, two tests should be done, one before entering the quarantine and the other one just before leaving the quarantine place. Bangladesh also should focus on increasing total Covid-19 testing up to 1 lac a day, and simultaneously, concentrate on conducting sequencing tests on a daily basis to recognise vaccine-resistant Covid-19 strain.
Nevertheless, the total system of the government connecting the private sector should act fast, ensuring all that we need to fight Covid-19, now.
It is high time, we stood together, stood firm and united to protect our nation.
Enamul Hafiz Latifee is the Deputy Executive Secretary, Research and Development, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). He can be reached at email@example.com
Dr. Tanzia Islam Latifi (MBBS, MSc) is a PhD Student at the University of Salford, United Kingdom. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.