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Catholic health workers battle virus fears in Bangladesh

Church wants to do everything possible to support people, says head of health programs at Caritas

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Catholic health workers battle virus fears in Bangladesh

Bus drivers wait to transport Bangladeshi nationals evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan to a quarantine center in Dhaka on Feb. 1. (Photo: Munir Uz Zuman/AFP)

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Catholic health workers in Bangladesh are joining state authorities to battle increasing public fears stemming from the deadly outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

An awareness campaign was among the issues topping the agenda during the annual workshop of the Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Healthcare held in Dhaka on Feb. 9.

About 50 Catholic health officials and activists from Bangladesh's two archdioceses and six dioceses attended the program at the secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh.

Participants discussed a comparative analysis of national and church health policies as well as renewed efforts to prioritize awareness and treatment of major diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Church is highly concerned about the coronavirus outbreak and wants to do everything possible to support people, said Dr. Edward Pallab Rozario, head of health programs at Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh.

“People are very afraid as the deadly virus has instilled a climate of fear. The Church and Caritas have been working together at the grassroots level, so people know how they can avoid becoming infected by taking measures such as maintaining cleanliness and staying away from animals and birds,” Rozario, a consultant at church-run St. John Vianney Hospital in Dhaka, told UCA News.

Awareness of the virus is essential for people in rural areas as there are many migrant workers, he said.

“The Church and Caritas have access to the grassroots level, and we are tapping into this advantage to reach out to as many people as possible,” he added.

The Church has already started reaching out to people in remote areas to make them aware of the coronavirus outbreak, said Dipok Ekka, a member of the health commission in Rajshahi Diocese.

“We have sent out essential messages to all the parishes of the diocese and about 50 grassroots Caritas offices. We have set up digital banners with symptoms of the coronavirus and preventive measures,” Ekka, an ethnic Oraon Catholic, told UCA News. “Also, we have reached out to various project groups such as microcredit groups to make people aware of the infection and not to panic.”

Family of viruses

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Common signs of infection include respiratory problems, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and even death, WHO noted. 

A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The current outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31. It then spread to several Chinese provinces, prompting the government to lock down several cities.

More than 1,000 people have died and more than 43,000 have been infected by the virus, global media reported.

The outbreak has sparked fear and frenzy across the world as 28 countries have confirmed infections.

Fear grips Bangladesh

Fear of the coronavirus outbreak has gripped Bangladesh in recent weeks as well.

A 39-year-old Bangladeshi worker was among three men found infected with the coronavirus in Singapore, The Straits Times reported on Feb. 9.

Eight passengers who returned from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Feb. 1 were admitted to a state hospital in Dhaka due to high body temperature, media reported.

They were among 314 Bangladeshi nationals, most of them students, brought back to the country. The rest have been put in weeks-long quarantine in a camp near Dhaka.

Bangladesh continues to allow flights to and from China but has installed screening mechanisms at all international airports to detect virus infection.

Government ministers warned that coronavirus infection was poised to jeopardize the economy of Bangladesh, a South Asian nation of 160 million where one quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

Due to Chinese investments and construction groups, several megaprojects are in jeopardy, roads and transports minister Obaidul Quader said on Feb. 5.

The projects include Padma Multipurpose Bridge, the country’s largest bridge being built over the Padma River, which would connect the southern region with the capital.

Chinese experts and workers on holiday have been told not to return to Bangladesh until the outbreak ends and those in the country have been put under observation, the minister said.

Commerce minister Tipu Munshi said trade with China has nosedived since the outbreak as imports and exports plunge.

Exports of frozen foods including crab and eel, mostly destined for China, have dropped over the past few weeks, while imports of raw materials for the country’s vital ready-made garment sector has been affected, the minister told journalists on Feb. 11.

“Our local market and economy will suffer if the outbreak in China persists,” he said.  

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