About 96 per cent of families with low socio-economic status experienced a reduction in their average monthly earnings during the 'lockdown' period, a new ICDDR,B study revealed on Wednesday.
It also showed that about 91 per cent of families considered themselves to be financially unstable, 47 per cent saw their earnings drop below the international poverty line of Tk160 (US$1.90) per person per day and 70 per cent experienced food insecurity and 15 per cent either ran out of food or remained hungry or missed meals.
The lockdown also had mental health impacts with women showing an increase in depressive symptoms. About 68 per cent of the participants in the study reported increase in their anxiety level.
It is of concern that among the women who reported emotional, physical or sexual violence from their intimate partners, more than half reported that violence had increased since lockdown.
Like many countries around the world, Bangladesh used the stay-at-home (or lockdown) orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between late March and the end of May 2020. Using an existing research network in Bangladesh, the study team was able to track the impact of the lockdown on financial stability, food security, mental health and domestic violence in 2,424 families in Rupganj, Bhulta and Golakandail unions of Rupganj Upazila under Narayanganj district.
The study has documented that families with low socioeconomic status particularly women experienced financial hardship, food insecurity, domestic violence and mental health challenges during COVID-19 stay-at-home (lockdown) measures in Bangladesh.
Scientists at ICDDR,B and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), Australia have documented the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home measures on the wellbeing of women and their families in rural Bangladesh.
The study found that low socioeconomic families experienced a range of economic and mental health challenges during the two-month stay-at-home order, and women reported an increase in intimate partner violence.
Dr. Jena Derakhshani Hamadani, Emeritus Scientist, Maternal and Child Health Division at ICDDR,B and Principal Investigator of the study said, "The findings of the study will not only help the decision makers of Bangladesh but also of other developing countries to take successful pro-poor and pro-women measures" if the need for imposition of stay-at-home arises again.
"The marked increase in severe food insecurity in our study population shows the impact of economic pressure on food access. It also supports modelling to suggest the pandemic could have a catastrophic effect on food security and consequently on nutrition worldwide," she added.
The study also highlights the need for wide-reaching welfare and other forms of financial support for families impacted by lockdown measures, not only for those on low incomes. Crucially, social support is needed to protect women's safety and it is essential that intervention services against domestic violence remain accessible during lockdown.
The research was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and was conducted in partnership with the Doherty Institute and Monash University, Australia.