The COVID-19 pandemic is again taking a fierce form throughout the world just as we were thinking that the worst is over. The greatest impact of COVID-19 is on the health and education of the people. The silent impact of this pandemic is going to make us suffer for a long time and it seems with the ongoing threats of omicron and delta variant, the world has to endure it for a much longer period. Though COVID-19 is not in a threatening position in our country right now but the previous trend is letting us believe that another critical wave is incoming. Hence, it is important that, we think constructively about the health and education of Bangladeshi citizens.
The education of 37 million children in Bangladesh and about 800 million children in Asia, including South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, has been disrupted due to school closures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, according to a report by UNICEF and UNESCO. In Bangladesh, schools were closed throughout the entire pandemic until 12 September, when they reopened again on a limited basis.
The associated consequences of such continuous school closures are staggering and include learning loss, mental distress, missed school meals and routine vaccinations, heightened risk of drop out of structured education, increased child labour, increased child marriage and increased exposure to drugs and terrorism. While countries across Asia are taking actions to provide students with distance learning, it did not reach everywhere during pandemic school closures.
Experts opined for the educational institutions to operate fully from the beginning of the next year. Right now, these institutions are running with a curtailed scheme. Though the students are going to their schools, colleges and universities in a limited scale, that is truly not fully covering the educational requirements. But it is expected that, a new wave of COVID-19 will be there in Bangladesh as in most of the countries of the world. Hence, it might not be possible to open the educational institutions fully from January, 2022 as the education minister has already ensured that, such operation of these institutions will not be initiated before March, 2022.
From the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, Bangladesh government closed all educational institutions and later initiated online or distant learning. But these institutions could have remained open in rural areas as the people there inherits strong immunity due to exposure to the nature and faced worst educational scenario with large number of dropouts. As we could not cover them under the online education platforms due to resource limitations, we should have kept them in schools under a controlled environment.
These dropouts are highly exposed towards drugs, vandalism, terrorism, child marriage, teen gang culture etc. and they might turn into a social burden at a point. If we cannot provide good education to our future generations, our development cannot be sustained in the long run and we will face ill consequence like many other African and Middle Eastern countries.
Along with education, the health sector of Bangladesh as well as that of most of the countries experienced heavy turmoil. Along with the severe medical needs of the COVID-19 patients, especially with the delta variant, the medical capacity was proven to be inadequate on several instances. It was not only the case of Bangladesh but also the case of many other countries, including our largest neighbor – India. The delivery of essential healthcare services had been severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bangladesh government took several temporary measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic related issues, which worked to an extent. It was a blessing of the Almighty that, COVID-19 was not critically spread in densely populated Bangladesh. Later the vaccination drives also played a great role in containing COVID-19 in Bangladesh, especially at city areas. Overall, the direct impact of COVID-19 was moderate on our health management system. But the indirect impacts can be very severe.
Many COVID-19 patients, though recovered, faced several physical adversities, even after a year from recovery. The impacts are yet subject of research. A major part of our population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine while many received two doses. But that might not be enough as the effective period of the vaccine remains under question. Recently, it was declared that, the effectiveness of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine depletes after only three months. Hence, booster doses became mandatory. The Bangladesh government has declared to provide booster dose from the end of this month. Initially senior citizens, aged 60 and over and frontliners will receive the booster dose though there remains a question.
The government identifies the medical staff, law enforcers, journalists etc. as the frontliners but there are many others who are engaged in essential services during COVID-19 pandemic. Like; the farmers, the sellers of commodity products, the drivers of vehicles, the factory workers including the garments workers, the municipality workers etc. These people need to perform their works during the pandemic, even in crowded places. So, the definition of frontliner remains faulty.
Few countries like; Israel, USA etc are executing the fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine while we are yet to vaccinate almost half of our eligible population despite the greatest effort of the government. With a huge population and limited resources, it is very difficult for us to adequately vaccinate our people. Creating our own vaccine or receiving the patent of a vaccine to produce in Bangladesh remains critical to address this challenge.
To ensure health and education during these challenging periods, monitoring is highly required. We cannot allow any COVID-19 patients to move freely on the streets. In developed countries, COVID-19 patients are strictly monitored as they must remain in isolation. We must also monitor the vaccination status at different communities. The local government representatives along with officials must ensure this monitoring at ward or union level. Along with that, we need to increase healthcare capacity throughout the country so that, people can get medical services at their nearest location. As we are not facing much pressure right now, it is the exact time to act on that.
The education officers along with other officials must monitor the education reach status, dropout status, participation status etc. of their working area to ensure that, every student receives proper education during this challenging period. It is unfortunate that, most of the rural area schools and even many in urban areas are not properly following COVID-19 safety protocols.
Hence, the decision of opening the educational institutes fully amid the prevailing threats of omicron and delta might just turn out to be wrong. We must ensure access to education for our students by any means, which will require strong commitment from all relevant stakeholders. Today, monitoring the citizens has become very much easier due to technology as we are doing everything with NID or online birth certificate database. We much use digitalized platforms in full capacity to face the challenges imposed by COVID-19 pandemic.
For a country to progress, it is must that, the people of that country are healthy and educated. Bangladesh was moving fast towards that direction as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was leading the country towards progressive and comprehensive development. But COVID-19 came out as a great barrier against that move. If we remain with an unhealthy population as well as youths with disrupted education, we have to move backwards at a point. Hence, it is important that, we do not ignore the threats of COVID-19 at any point as omicron, delta, del-omicron etc. will keep coming. On the face of all challenges, we much ensure two basic rights of people – health and education. If we can, only then our progress will remain undaunted and sustained.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela