Bangladesh’s coronavirus experience is mixed compared to the experiences of its neighbouring countries. While Bangladesh is doing better than countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in terms of coronavirus cases, deaths and number of tests, it is faring worse than Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Even with the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines to combat the pandemic, there remains questions regarding whether the vaccines are a scientific success or a commercial success.
These observations were presented at a virtual dialogue on “Access to Covid-19 Vaccine in Bangladesh: Who, When and How?” on Sunday. The dialogue was organised by the Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh in association with Bangladesh Health Watch (BSW).
Dr Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, Convener of BSW, made the keynote presentation.
Dr Bijon Kumar Sil, eminent vaccine expert, was present as an expert panellist. He emphasised that it is first important to locate eligible candidates for receiving the vaccines. Eligibility can be ensured through laboratory tests that checks whether one has the antibodies to fight the virus. He emphasised the need for monitoring the vaccines after its administration on people, according to a statement.
Dr Firdausi Qadri, senior scientist and head of Mucosal Immunology and Vaccinology Unit, Infectious Diseases Division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease and Research, (icddr,b) mentioned that Bangladesh must go forward with the vaccines despite their risks. Since every country has a different population with different genetics, the side effects of the vaccines cannot be understood without using them.
Mr Hamidul Islam, cold chain specialist of UNICEF, Bangladesh, emphasised that also the country needs a procurement and delivery plan in contingence with the supply and storage capacity.
Dr Mohammad Sorowar Hossain, scientist and also executive director, Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF), Dhaka, mentioned that there is no need to give it free to all citizens as there are many people who will be able to afford the vaccines. This will, in turn, reduce the pressure on the government.
Professor Dr Rumana Huque, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka, underscored the need for regulating the private sector in case it brings the vaccines to Bangladesh. She also raised concerns about prioritising urban health during combatting the virus.
Dr Rounaq Jahan, distinguished fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), stressed that there is no point of planning without addressing the lack of capacity for implementation.
Prof Dr Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of National Committee on Health Rights Movement, Former President, Bangladesh, Medical Association (BMA) advised that the industries can contribute in easing the pressure off the government by bringing the vaccines to treat their employees.
Dr Md Tajudding Sikder, chairman and associate professor, Department of Public Health and Informatics, Jahangirnagar University, mentioned that from a public health perspective, piloting must be done for the vaccines where different groups of people in Bangladesh will be put under a one-month trial.
Professor Dr Md Habibe Millat, MP, member, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Science and Technology, was present as a special guest in the dialogue. He mentioned that besides increasing the budget for the health sector, capacity building, transparency and accountability are vital.
Dr AFM Ruhal Haque, former health minister, and chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Science Technology, was also a special guest. He emphasised that the existing post-vaccination system must be strengthened.
The session was chaired by Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, convenor, Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh and distinguished fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). He emphasised that a good policy of the government cannot be implemented due to institutional weaknesses, socioeconomic and political scenario. To ensure transparency, there must be administrative accountability from the government, democratic accountability from the democratic representatives and social accountability from the citizens.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of CPD, was also present in the programme. Partner organisations of the Citizen’s Platform from different parts of the country also attended the dialogue.