BRAC has recently conducted a survey to get an insight into the overall sense of public awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact in Bangladesh. A total of 2,317 respondents (68% from rural areas and 32% from urban) from different socio-economic backgrounds in 64 districts joined the survey conducted from 9 to 13 May 2020. Of them, 37.5% were men and 63.5% women. The survey analysis shows daily wage earners have slowly started to regain their livelihood. However, many of these people and their families will still need support for at least three more months to recover from the setback posed by the pandemic.
The findings of the perception survey titled ‘COVID-19 awareness and economic impact’ were revealed at a digitally organised press conference today, on Tuesday (9 June 2020). Abul Kalam Azad, Former Principal Coordinator (SDG Affairs), Prime Minister’s Office, Sudipto Mukherjee, Resident Representative of UNDP in Bangladesh, Mizanur Rahman Khan, Joint Editor, Prothom Alo, Shameran Abed, Senior Director, BRAC, and Nobonita Chowdhury, Director, BRAC, joined the event as panellists. KAM Morshed, Senior Director, BRAC, moderated the press conference.
Speaking at the briefing, former Principal Coordinator of SDG Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office Abul Kalam Azad lauded the BRAC initiative and said all microfinance institutions (MFIs) and NGOs need to follow BRAC footsteps in returning savings to low income people.
“The government is trying to finance the labour intensive sectors so that it can help create more jobs. Skills development training for migrant workers can also help them get back their jobs in the current crisis,” said Azad.
BRAC Senior Director Shameran Abed accredited the role of MFIs in reaching cash assistance to vulnerable people and enterprises.
“Getting money to people through banks is challenging since banks lack capacity. A new mechanism is needed and the mobile banking system is already delivering. Once identified, people are getting easy access to finance through the system,” Shameran Abed said.
BRAC, with the help of donors and partners, has delivered emergency cash support to 360,000 families. Under the Microfinance programme, savings were returned to 500,000 members, to support in their economic recovery process.
Sudipto Mukherjee, Resident UNDP Representative, stressed on concerted efforts to avert the crisis posed by the pandemic.
“We cannot afford to leave anyone behind. That is more important than being concerned about duplication. Universal protection is required for a welfare state like Bangladesh,” Mukherjee said.
At the same time, the next plan of actions should focus on getting the economy back on its feet, maintaining proper health precautions.
Suggestions to tackle the crisis included strict introduction of a ‘pro-poor’ lens to review and implement the recovery and rehabilitation plans as well as the already declared stimulus packages or incentives.
Transparency was stressed for delivery mechanisms of assistance and stimulus packages for different private sectors. Authorities were urged to engage NGOs and community-based organisations to monitor the listing of beneficiaries and cash transfer through mobile banking was stressed for distribution.
Preparing a database of beneficiaries to avoid duplication and introducing a prompt complaint redressal mechanism were also recommended.
The lockdown and social distancing measures announced to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic forced 95% people across the country to suffer a loss in their income. Approximately 51% of the respondents said their household income was reduced to zero after the public holiday was declared in late March. Around 62% of low income wage earners lost reduced work opportunities. The pandemic left around 28% of the respondents economically inactive. Average monthly household income of the respondents was BDT 24,565 before the public holidays, but that declined to BDT 7,096 in May, registering a 76% decline in household income. Loss in income was somewhat greater in urban areas (79%) than in the rural ones (75%).
Respondents from Pirojpur (96%), Cox’s Bazar (95%), Rangamati (95%), Gaibandha (94%) and Brahmanbaria (93%) were found to have suffered greater losses in income.
In the survey, women-headed households were found to be more economically vulnerable compared to households headed by men. Average income of women-headed households declined more (80%) than men-headed households (75%). Women-headed households (57%) reportedly had their monthly income reduced to zero during the public holiday, which was 49% for households headed by men.
The loss in income inevitably impacted food security, particularly of the low income people. On an average, 16% of overall households reported that they had food only to survive for 1-3 days, while 3% of the households did not have any food during the survey time.
The survey found 11% of respondents think that there was an increase in violence against women during the holidays. Majority (58%) of them think that violence increased as poverty was intensified by the pandemic.
More than three-fourths (76%) of respondents now practice coronavirus preventive behaviours, while the remaining one-fourth practices the behaviours irregularly, which is alarming. More than three-fourth (78%) respondents feel that there is no chance or very little chance for them of getting infected with the coronavirus. Respondents from rural areas (81%) compared to urban areas (71%) express more confidence about not getting infected. Such beliefs might spread reluctance among people in maintaining the precautions against the spread of coronavirus.
About 38% of the respondents believe more coordinated efforts are needed to reach assistance to the people in need. The survey also found that the need of assistance is higher in rural areas (72%) compared to urban areas (62%).
The agriculture sector took a major hit as farmers across the country suffered a steep loss worth approximately BDT 565.36 billion (56,536.68 crore) during the public holiday announced to contain COVID-19 pandemic. This loss was incurred in one and a half months between March and May.
This was revealed in a research conducted by BRAC during these 45 days. The research covered all the subsectors namely, crop and vegetables farming, poultry and livestock and fishery. Two studies were carried out as part of the research, one of which surveyed the situation of the farmers at the producers' end, while the other focused on the market situation and how its disruption impacted the farmers during this period. A representative survey was also conducted under the research interviewing 1,581 farmers across the country.
The findings along with a number of recommendations of the research titled “Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture and implications for food security” were revealed at a digitally organised press conference today, on Thursday (4 June 2020).
Dr MA Sattar Mandal, former vice chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University and former member of Planning Commission, Eleash Mridha, managing director of PRAN Group, Dr FH Ansarey, managing director and CEO of ACI Agribusiness, and Mohammad Anisur Rahman, director of BRAC Dairy and Food Enterprise, joined the event as panellists. KAM Morshed, senior director, BRAC, moderated the press conference, also attended by journalists, agricultural specialists and researchers, among others. Two farmers also joined the event to share their experience.
The findings show the prices and sales of essential agricultural products, especially coarse rice and red lentils, went up during the early days of the pandemic due to panic buying of consumers and high demand of relief-providing entities. The trend resulted in the rise of rice and lentil prices by 30-32% while the traders had a 300% rise in their sales of these products. However, the surge in market demand could not benefit the farmers as they sold their stock before the pandemic began.
The producers of non-relief and perishable items also had a hard time to continue the production and sell of their products. Overall, 88% of all farmers (100% of fish farmers) reported economic losses owing to production and marketing problems.
Farmers mentioned lack of fair prices (66%), limited operation of markets (52%), higher prices of inputs (45%) and unavailability of labour (28%) as the prime causes behind their sufferings.
Due to damages to their produce and low prices, each farmer suffered a loss of an average of BDT 207,976 during the 45 days period. Based on the number of farmers in the country in each of the sub-sectors, the value of loss was estimated at BDT 565.36 billion.
Ex-member of the Planning Commission Dr MA Sattar Mandal thanked BRAC for conducting the research and said retailers, distributers, agents and middlemen should be prioritised and that their expertise should be utilised to tackle the current situation as they play important roles in the market.
PRAN Group MD Eleash Mridha said measures should be taken to facilitate farmers in those areas where the spread of coronavirus is lower.
ACI Agribusiness MD Dr FH Ansarey stressed on tech-based agricultural innovation.
“Agro processing technologies need to be given preference. The government should allocate BDT 10bn (1000 crore) for improving connectivity of farmers with the private sector, dealers and extension service,” he said.
BRAC Dairy and Food Enterprise Director Mohammad Anisur Rahman said constant decline in demand since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic spoiled farmers’ produce at a huge margin. Dairy farmers suffered a lot as they had to dump milk, he said “If the situation lingers, the result will be ominous. If farmers change their profession, food safety of the country will be endangered,” Rahman added.
Of the farmers interviewed, 42% reported that they had no way to cope up with the crisis, while 60% of crop and vegetable farmers said they had to absorb the losses fully. Approximately 11% of all farmers and 17% of poultry farmers had to reduce their production, while another 2% stopped production. Poultry farmers encountered huge losses as prices dropped by 44% owing to the closure of all restaurants during the holiday.
As the demand of poultry products reduced, the farmers reduced their production too, which resulted in the shortage of supply and thus the prices increased. Prices rose by 26% for farm chicken and 8% for eggs during second week of May.
As the demand declined by almost 33-60% with the prices going down by 12.5% at the retail level and 22% at the farmers’ end, livestock farmers had to reduce their production.
Of the interviewees, 41% respondents (69% of fish farmers) are planning to depend on credit to survive, 14% will have to depend on their alternative income sources, 18% will either draw money from savings or sell their assets. Another 18% of the respondents still have no plans and 5% are planning to change their profession if they have to discontinue their production.
Of the respondents, 66% want to get loans from the government on easy terms. As many as 56% farmers want fair prices for their produce, while 48% want necessary inputs at affordable prices.
Of the farmers interviewed, 64% are aware of incentives the government announced for them, but 79% of them had no idea or had a misconception about how to avail the facility. Most significantly, only 20% of the respondents reported to having prior experience of taking formal loans from banks.
The studies also gave a number of recommendations based on their findings, which include developing a farmer-friendly credit disbursement system, introducing innovative disbursement mechanisms through mobile financial services and NGOs, and reducing red-tape barriers.
Ensuring wide-scale injection of cash to boost people’s purchasing power, Ensure the government’s intervention in procurement and supply chain systems to rectify price falls such as establishment of collection centres for agro-produces closer to smallholder producers, and facilitating and providing incentives so the backward and forward linkages to adequately improve the support system to the industry were also recommended in the research.
Developing sub-sector-specific short, medium and long-term plans, focusing on innovative tech-based agribusiness models and making quality seeds and other inputs available to farmers were also stressed.
Bangladesh’s economy and development are at a critical juncture in the wake of COVID-19. Financially poorest people are most affected in terms of both economy and health. At present 100.22 million people face high risk of economic and health vulnerabilities. The average family income loss between March and May hovers at around 74 per cent. Over 1.4 million migrant workers have returned or are on their way back home due to job loss.
The above scenario is brought upon by a joint exercise of BRAC, DataSense and Unnayan Shamannay, attempting to develop a vulnerability index. The findings and recommendations of the study titled "COVID-19 and national budget 2020-2021: Rethinking strategy for bottom of the pyramid" were revealed at a digitally organised press conference today on Monday (1 June 2020).
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, noted economist, chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and chairperson of BRAC, presided over the event with Dr Atiur Rahman, former governor of Bangladesh Bank, present as the chief guest. KAM Morshed, senior director, BRAC, moderated the press conference. Dr Ananya Raihan, chief executive officer, iSocial, presented the survey report. Dr Nazneen Ahmed, senior research fellow, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), and Dr Imran Matin, executive director, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), were present as panel speakers.
The findings and recommendations of the study are drawn from holistic reviews of a number of studies recently conducted by BRAC, BIGD, PPRC, International Monetary Fund and other national and international bodies, along with the data obtained from a primary survey, which was conducted on 962 respondents randomly selected from 25 districts of the country, during the period of May 15-18, 2020.
The study findings show that among the people at high risk of economic and health vulnerabilities, 53.64 million are extreme poor, including those pushed down to extreme poverty by the pandemic. (By definition of extreme poor: $1.9 PPP income per day. While 47.33 million extreme poor face high economic risk, 36.33 million are at high health risk.
The primary survey reveals that the pandemic has variously affected the low-income people. It shows that 34.8% of households interviewed have at least one member who lost their job. The average family income loss between March and May hovers at around 74%. People in the informal sector, including day-labourers, have suffered most. The manufacturing sector also experienced a major blow. For example, the readymade garment sector experienced 84% reduction in exports in April 2020 compared with April 2019. Between mid-March and April 7, 2020, 1,116 factories have been reported closed and 2.19 million workers lost their job.
The study further reveals that -
Bottom of the pyramid population is at higher risk of contracting the disease. In case of death of the earning member of the family, there is a high chance of starvation and malnutrition, especially among women and children.
Earlier studies and reports suggest that due to lack of country-wide coordination and collaboration, food and cash support from the government could not be adequately reached to the poor and extreme poor.
The COVID-19 is causing new kinds of economic, social and digital divides. As only 34% of households have access to smartphones and 54% have access to TV, children of the lowest economic rung mostly remain excluded from any form of education provided through digital channels.
More than one million migrants have returned or are returning home due to job loss. The migrants staying in the destination countries have become subject to a debt trap, social stigma and an uncertain future.
The COVID-19 has imposed further difficulties on the lives of people with special needs and their families.
Dr Atiur Rahman said, "Medium, small and micro enterprises need help as 60% of them will be out of business. We can allocate BDT 20 thousand crore for this sector. The entire BDT 20 thousand crore needs to be refinanced by the Bangladesh Bank. Banks are not interested to give loans to MSMEs which they don’t know. Refinance line has to be increased so that risk sharing by bank is promoted."
"There is no risk of inflation yet. Economy is not that vibrant. Fuel prices are low because world market prices are low," he observed.
"Microfinance institutions can be given more refinancing facilities. Also banks should be given credit guarantee schemes so that they are encouraged to provide credit to MSMEs for which budget allocation is required," he further said.
Dr Nazneen Ahmed said, "Fuel subsidy to transport operators can be provided so they will not require to increase fares."
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman in his chair's speech said, "Instead of making new lists it is best if existing lists can be used. Instead of BDT 100, BDT 500 per head may be allocated as stipend for 7.8 million primary students. That way we can ensure support reaches to the right people."
"The budget needs to be reflective, open to criticism, skilful in strategy," he stressed.
Based on the study findings, a number of recommendations were made to include in the national budget of fy2020-21 that include the following.
Introduce cash transfers for COVID-19 positive patients for income losses and 3-year cash support if any income earner of the extreme poor and poor households dies due to COVID-19.
Introduce universal unemployment benefit scheme, starting with extreme poor and poor by FY 2020-2021 and for other unemployed groups from FY 2021-2022.
Introduce a universal identification system of citizens (irrespective of age) for enabling citizens to access services and receive benefits within FY 2020-2021.
Include all citizens into universal digital services for getting benefits of social protection schemes, credit, savings and insurance services through public-private partnership.
Launch a special programme for returnee migrants at home and migrant workers in destination countries as well to compensate income loss, create jobs and help them get out of debt trap and social stigma.
Introduce access to individual digital devices and internet connectivity to all Bangladeshi citizens above 16 years old to ensure access to livelihood, education, health and safety.
Allocate maximum resources for fighting COVID-19 and enforce public-private-NGO collaboration and coordination.
Also to minimise health risks, a mix of work-from-home and work-from-office has been proposed. Besides, six-hourly workdays with up to three shifts for offices and factories have been recommended to reduce traffic on the road, maintain social distancing at the workplace and public transport.
BRAC has allocated a budget of BDT 30 million (3 crore) for low-income families in 10 upazilas of three coastal districts to help repair of households and water sanitation and hygine (WASH) facilities damaged by Cyclone Amphan.
Amphan killed at least 22 people as it thumped the country’s coast on Wednesday with gusting winds and heavy rainfall.
Under the initiative, approximately 6,000 households at Shyamnagar, Asashuni, Kaliganj, and Kalaroa upazilas in Satkhira; Koira, Paikgachha, Dacope, Botiaghata and Dumuria upazilas under Khulna and Sarankhola upazila under Bagerhat will receive BDT 5,000 each. A team from BRAC Humanitarian Programme will select the households and start distributing the money within one to two days after the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr so that affected people can start repairing their houses and WASH facilities.
Sajedul Hasan, Director of Humanitarian Programme, BRAC and BRAC International said,
“More than 20 districts were affected after cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh. People lost their home, and sanitization. Now they are living with their relatives, some of them sharing bed with their neighbor. Don’t forget that we are also facing pandemic situation. Social distancing is much needed at this stage. So BRAC has taken the initiative to rebuild houses, toilets for the people who are affected as early as possible. We are also arranging safe drinking water for people who are affected.’’
BRAC sent 12,000 masks, 12,000 gloves and 240 sanitisers to Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira districts three days before Amphan hit the coastline so that people living in these areas could ensure hygiene practice during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
BRAC has also launched a fundraising appeal to scale up the effort and increase the coverage. Individuals and any organisation can donate. Details are available on BRAC website: https://www.brac.net/covid19/donate/. Anyone can donate to the fund through bKash app.
Donations can also be sent to:
Account name: BRAC
Account number: 150120-2316474001
Bank name: BRAC BANK
Bank branch: Gulshan 1, Gulshan Avenue, Dhaka.
We are deeply saddened to share the passing of our esteemed colleague, Brig Gen Aftab Uddin Ahmad (Retd), Director of Skills Development Programme, BRAC. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.
He was admitted to hospital with complications in the lungs and had tested positive for COVID-19. He breathed his last at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka this afternoon. He was 72.
Mr Ahmad joined BRAC in October 2019. Prior to joining BRAC, he was the Chief Executive Officer of the Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry (CEBAI) and was instrumental in the growth of the prominent skills development organisation UCEP Bangladesh. He was a Senior Consultant at the World Bank since 2014 under the STEP project. He also possesses over 27 years of prolific career in the Bangladesh Military Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
His contribution in the technical and vocational education and training sector will be remembered forever. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as a concept was initiated and implemented under his leadership. He was a key member of the national consultative committee for drafting the national skills development policy in 2011. In addition, he contributed to the formulation of the national education policy, non-formal education policy, technical and vocational education and training reforms, Education Watch 2013, and corporate social responsibility policy. He provided strategic leadership in implementing projects for numerous organisations including UNICEF, ILO, IKEA, Save the Children International, Asian Development Bank, Plan International, European Commission, Government of Bangladesh and Citibank, NA.
We are indebted for his guidance and leadership since he joined BRAC. He will be remembered for his unparalleled dedication to his work, and his long-standing commitment to public service in Bangladesh.
Brig Gen Aftab Uddin Ahmad (Retd) leaves behind a son and daughter, and a host of well-wishers. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and pray for his departed soul.
BRAC is assisting the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) to install walk-in sample collection booths (kiosk) in areas vulnerable to Novel Coronavirus outbreak across the country. As part of the initiative, at least 50 kiosks will be installed in Dhaka by next week to help speed up the process of sample collection. Fifty more kiosks will be set up across the country soon.
In line with the DGHS directives, BRAC is currently recruiting medical technologists, installing kiosks, collecting samples and transferring those samples to designated testing labs. The DGHS is also assisting BRAC in training technologists and providing sample collection kits to the organisation. A memorandum of understanding will soon be signed in this regard between BRAC and the DGHS.
While kiosks set up at hospitals will be operated by respective hospital staff, two trained medical technologists from BRAC will be collecting samples at the kiosks set up elsewhere. They will collect samples from suspected COVID-19 patients from 9am to 12pm Saturday through Thursday. Every day, technicians will be able to collect samples from 40 people having common symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, dry cough, fatigue, sore throat and respiratory difficulties. Once collected, the samples will be sent to testing facilities designated by the DGHS. Before that, suspected patients will have to fill-up forms prescribed by the DGHS providing personal information including phone numbers. Test results will be sent to respective individuals via text messages to the phone number they are stipulated to provide during sample collection at the kiosks.
Two methods of screening patients are being followed for sample collection. Initially, paramedics will screen suspected patients according to national definitions of cases and contacts. In addition, kiosks located in medical colleges or hospitals or adjacent to these facilities will collect samples from patients referred to them.
Elderly people, people with existing comorbidities, doctors, healthcare workers, staff at health facilities and those working in closed settings such as workplaces or classrooms will be prioritised for sample collection given the constraint in resources.
Associate Director of BRAC Health, Nutrition and Population Programme Morseda Chowdhury said, “We will set up 100 walk-in kiosks across 19 risky regions to expedite the government’s initiative of scaling up testing capacity along with the government's ongoing activities. Half of these kiosks will be set up in Dhaka.”
“Initially, we installed kiosks in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital on a pilot basis. Later, more kiosks were set up at Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Memorial KPJ Specialised Hospital and Nursing College and in Narayanganj in line with the DGHS directive. We have also identified several spots to install kiosks in consultation with two Dhaka city mayors,” Chowdhury added.
As of 11 May 2020, Chowdhury said that 17 kiosks have been installed at 14 spots in Dhaka as per the DGHS directive and that work on installing more booths is in progress.
The institutions where the kiosks are already in operation include Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital, Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Memorial KPJ Specialised Hospital and Nursing College, Sheikh Hasina Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, Government Unani and Ayurvedic Medical College and Hospital and Uttara Adhunik Medical College. Besides this, kiosks have started functioning at community centres located in Dhaka city corporation areas (Naya Paltan, Bashabo, Kamrangirchar, Naya Bazar, Jatrabari and Lalbagh). Two of those are adjacent to slums to serve the low-income population. Few more will cover areas of city corporations such as Uttara, Moghbazar, Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Uttarkhan, Dakkhinkhan and Baunia. Moreover, some more will be opened in different public and private hospital premises to cover more areas.
“BRAC is yet to receive any new funds in this regard. However, the organisation is diverting some of its funds from the Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK government to continue its proceedings,” Chowdhury said.
On Monday, 11 May 2020, Information Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud inaugurated a kiosk on the Dhaka Reporters Unity premises dedicated to collect samples from journalists for COVID-19 tests. Another kiosk will be inaugurated at the National Press Club soon.
PepsiCo in Bangladesh, along with the global food and beverage company’s philanthropic arm, the PepsiCo Foundation, has partnered with BRAC, the world’s leading NGO to provide over 1.4 million meals to support low-income and ultra-poor families impacted by coronavirus pandemic across Bangladesh. This initiative is part of PepsiCo’s #GiveMealsGiveHope global programme.
As part of the partnership, BRAC, will be the on-ground implementation partner to provide dry rations to the low income and ultra-poor families in close collaboration with the Local administration including law enforcement authorities.
Debasish Deb, Country Manager, PepsiCo Bangladesh, said, “Bangladesh, like the rest of the world, is facing it’s biggest healthcare challenge. In response to the same, we are partnering with BRAC to provide meals, a critical requirement, to the communities most impacted by COVID-19 outbreak. We are committed to give our full support to the Government of Bangladesh in its fight against the pandemic and will continue to do our best to serve the Nation in these challenging times.”
Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC, said, "Millions of daily wage earners and the ultra-poor have been hit hard by the economic aftermath of the pandemic. A recent survey by BRAC reveals 14% low-income families do not have food at home. The generous meals support from PepsiCo Bangladesh is a timely and fitting solution for emergency food sustenance."
"BRAC has already initiated a cash assistance programme supporting 300,000 families to buy essential food supplies, however the need is far greater. PepsiCo’s support will help us to reach more vulnerable people at this critical time. BRAC will continue to prioritise the most vulnerable - the elderly, pregnant or lactating mothers, people with disabilities, women-headed households, people living in ultra-poverty and those who are not receiving support from any other sources,” he added.
PepsiCo globally has announced its commitment to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The major focus of this effort includes providing 50 million meals across countries through various partnerships.
BRAC, Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC), and the emotional support and suicide prevention hotline Kaan Petey Roi, have jointly launched 'Moner Jotno Mobile E', a telecounselling platform to provide emergency counselling support for citizens experiencing distress, frustration and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The service was launched on Monday, 20 April 2020, and will be available across the country. The organisers stated that any citizen, irrespective of gender and socioeconomic background, will be able to seek support for the stress and frustration which may have arisen from the situation caused by the spread of Novel Coronavirus.
The hotline number 0966-678-9999 will be open from 8am till 12 midnight. Counsellors will directly pick the calls from the persons in distress.
Dr Erum Mariam, Executive Director of BRAC Institute of Educational Development said, "This collaborative effort aims at helping those who are experiencing a state of stress and anxiety in this unusual situation. Lockdowns, long stay at home and other social distancing measures enforced to contain the spread of the virus are causing confusion and distress among many of us, while many others are anxious about losing jobs. Expert counselling from platforms such as 'Moner Jotno Mobile E', which combines the expertise of BRAC, PHWC, and Kaan Petey Roi, can provide essential mental support to suffering individuals, so that they can better tackle this crisis and inspire a sense of hopefulness for the future.”
Organisers also said remote counselling using telephone is being globally advocated by experts, especially in a time of lockdowns such as the current pandemic, when people are often unable to get out of home to seek support.
Under 'Moner Jotno Mobile E' initiative, a team of 28 psychologists and counsellors, trained in general psychology, counselling psychology and clinical psychology, will directly attend to the callers whose full confidentiality will be ensured. The professionals will provide an empathetic and comfortable space in which the callers will feel heard, valued and respected as well as encouraged to confide their distresses, enabling them to feel less isolated and separated. Telecounsellors will also support the callers with wellbeing tips and exercise suggestions, which will hopefully ease their distress and anxiety.
The organisers further noted that if any caller expresses that they have symptoms of COVID-19, or manifests more serious psychological distress, they will be referred to other respective government-approved services for further attention and treatment.
BRAC handed over its 430-room learning centre at Ashkona to the government today on Thursday (16 April) to use it as a quarantine facility for returnee migrants.
Also under a partnership with the government in a pilot project, BRAC has started collecting COVID-19 related community-level data from today (April 16) at the union level.
BRAC is further set to start kiosk-based COVID-19 testing separately at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka and Narayanganj on a pilot basis.
Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC, said all returnees from abroad should stay in quarantine for 14 days for public safety and safety of their family members, which they will be able to do with relative ease if there are suitable quarantine facilities adjacent to Dhaka.
“This idea and commitment to the society has led BRAC to hand its relatively large learning centre at Ashkona to the government," he said.
BRAC executive director urged individuals and organisations with means to join its fundraising initiative so that assistance can be reached to more people living in ultra-poverty and in urban slums. For details on its fundraising initiative please visit: https://www.brac.net/covid19/donate/.
BRAC has been conducting a nationwide massive community awareness campaign since the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. As a partner of the Bangladesh government’s COVID-19 response plan, over 100 thousand of its staff, health workers and volunteers are deployed to conduct the campaign jointly with local administration and public representative bodies.
So far, more than 600,000 sachets of liquid soap, soap bars and hand sanitiser have been distributed across the country. Health workers and mass people received more than 55,000 surgical masks and 81,000 gloves for personal protection against COVID-19.
BRAC has already started manufacturing reusable masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) through its hygienic home-based production units and distributed approximately 350,000 masks and 2,150 PPEs.
Alongside running an extensive information, education and communication campaign at community level, BRAC is also conducting mass and digital media campaigns to sensitise people with messages of respiratory hygiene, social distancing, coughing etiquettes and hand washing. Renowned physicians, artists, policymakers and senior BRAC officials have joined the campaigns to raise awareness. For campaign details and content please visit http://www.brac.net/covid19/
Focused awareness campaign urgent on symptoms, management and treatment
Low-income families of the country are suffering a great decline in their earnings since the enforcement of social distancing measures and lockdowns to fight COVID-19. Extreme poverty has hiked 60 percent than before, while 14 percent people do not have any food at home.
On the other hand, 36 percent of the people do not have any clear idea about measures to be taken to prevent COVID-19. Most people lack understanding of the message that one should not directly go to any healthcare facility with symptoms of the infection (fever, cough, breathing problem). Fifty-three percent of the respondents said they would suggest neighbours with these symptoms to go to an urban hospital or public healthcare centre. Only 29 percent said they would ask the patient to call the helplines.
This picture of economic impact and disease perception came through a countrywide survey conducted by BRAC. A total of 2,675 respondents from low-income backgrounds in all 64 districts participated in the survey carried out from 31 March - 5 April 2020. BRAC's advocacy for social change programme conducted the survey with assistance from other programmes, namely microfinance, urban development programme and the partnership strengthening unit.
Based on the scenario drawn through the survey, a number of recommendations have also been made, including the following ones.
Focused large-scale awareness campaigns on prevention, management and treatment should run on TV and social media. Food assistance must be immediately reached to the millions of households suffering from acute food shortage across the country, to halt them from leaving their homes to find work to feed their families. People who have returned to villages from urban centres are not enrolled in any social safety net programmes and so need proper delivery mechanisms to get food aid immediately. Special attention is needed to keep the agricultural value chain from stalling. Plummeting prices of agricultural products and costly transportation costs can increase rural poverty and create social unrest. The harvesting of boro rice will start from mid-April to continue till the end of May. Advance purchase of crops by the government can ensure the required money for the farmers to start harvesting. Plans and mechanisms should be devised to financially assist the rural businesses to recover loss and be operative again.
Some of the other noteworthy data and information derived from the survey are as follows:
Impact on earning and food security
The impact of reduction in earning is catastrophic for the communities surveyed. Before the pandemic started, the per capita income of 24 percent of the respondents were below the national lower poverty line, and 35 percent were below the national upper poverty line. Following the loss of income, the same share has increased to 84 percent and 89 percent respectively. It means 89 percent of the respondents now live in extreme poverty. It also means that extreme poverty has risen by 60 percentage points and poverty by 54 percentage points among the respondents.
The average household income of the 2,675 respondents was BDT 14,599 before the COVID-19 epidemic. Of them, 93 percent of the respondents reported a decline in income due to the outbreak. During March 2020, their average income stood at BDT 3,742, which represents an average 75 percent decline from their family income of last month. People in Chattogram (84 percent), Rangpur (81 percent) and Sylhet (80 percent) divisions reported higher decline in income.
Due to the public holiday and lockdowns to enforce social distancing measures, 72 percent of the respondents reported job loss or reduced work opportunities, and eight percent of the respondents, who are still employed, have not received their payment.
Those engaged in non-agricultural wage labour experienced more loss of income (77 percent), than the wage labourers in the agriculture sector (65 percent). Fifty-one percent of the rickshaw pullers, 58 percent of the factory workers, 66 percent hotel/restaurant workers, and 62 percent day labourers in non-agricultural sectors reported their income reduced to zero in the current month.
Awareness of the disease
Out of the respondents, 99.6 percent have heard about the disease, and 66 percent have first heard about it from television. Only 40 percent of the respondents mentioned isolation/quarantine as a possible treatment option. Men are more informed (60 percent) about whom to contact or what to do if one gets infected by coronavirus compared to women (38 percent). Of the respondents, 48 percent think that government hospitals do not treat COVID-19 patients and nine percent have no idea what to do if anyone contracts the disease.
Reaction on the public response
Sixty-eight percent of the people supported the government’s declaration of public holidays to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Only about seven percent disagreed. There is a general agreement among the respondents that the government may extend the public holiday by an average of 22 days. Majority (64 percent) respondents believed that the holiday might be extended by more than 14 days.
Majority (64 percent) of the respondents felt that the government is doing enough to tackle the epidemic, though 31 percent in rural areas and 40 percent of respondents in urban areas disagreed. Only four percent of the respondents have received any emergency relief support as of 5 April 2020.
Forty-seven percent of the respondents prefered food aid, while 20 percent wanted cash support. Rural respondents are more interested in receiving food (50 percent in rural, 44 percent in urban) support.
Thirty-six percent of the respondents do not have any idea how they may cope with the loss of income. Twenty-three percent of the total respondents (38 percent among women) hope that the government will support them in case the crisis lingers on. Urban residents are more hopeful about government support than the rural inhabitants. Nineteen percent of the respondents are planning to take some credit to support their families if the situation continues.
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