GK* is working on accessible health care in Bangladesh. The organisation also has a lot of experience with emergency situations: from natural disasters to the collapse of Rana Plaza. Today, during the Covid-19 outbreak, GK once again proves itself to be as reliable as the proverbial rock in the storm. The development of a simple test kit for Covid-19 is in full swing and GK recently started distributing food parcels to those most vulnerable. " First of all we now have to prevent an even bigger disaster for large groups of people," says doctor Kadir, head of GK.
Just like many countries around the world, Bangladesh has been in lockdown since mid-March. Now there are more than 80 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and nine deaths**.
Doctor Kadir: "The consequences of the lockdown are huge for the millions of informal workers who survive on street trade - from shoe polishers to sex workers. For those people, a day without an income very swiftly becomes a day without food. It means that a large group of people started struggling immediately after the lockdown. Moreover, many clothing factories closed because Western fashion chains do not hesitate to cancel their orders now that nobody buys clothes anymore. Some factories transitioned and are now making protective clothing (Personal Protective Equipment or PPE).
"Because many factories are closed, workers went back to their villages, which increases the spread of the virus all over the country. Elderly people, who often live in remote areas, are an additional risk group. Once infected, mobility problems put them at risk even more. In the factories that remain open, clothing workers work together in confined spaces. The risk of contamination is very high, but few measures are taken in terms of hygiene. In densely populated countries like Bangladesh, social distance is very difficult. In combination with a fragile health system, this becomes an incalculable disaster. Prevention and testing are of the utmost importance at this stage," says doctor Kadir.
"That is why we are developing an accessible test kit, which we will sell for 200 BDT (2 euro). We have the necessary knowledge through our collaboration with a microbiologist who was involved in the development of a similar kit in Singapore. The government already gave us the green light to import the basic materials, now we are just waiting for approval from the WHO (World Health Organisation) and the government to start mass production. We want to use the test kit not only in our own hospitals, but also in other healthcare institutions", says Dr. Kadir. "We are currently working around the clock to achieve this. Our goal is not to make a profit, but to avoid a massive spread of the coronavirus. At the moment it is the flu season, which means there are more patients in hospitals than usual. It is not always clear whether it is the flu or the coronavirus. Thanks to our test, we hope to detect people with Covid-19 quickly and avoid further spread. Hopefully our test kit can prevent a major outbreak in Bangladesh."
As long as the lockdown is in place, an estimated 10 million people in Bangladesh need immediate assistance. That is why GK started organising food distributions. Doctor Kadir: "Last week more than 2,000 families were helped. GK expects to reach 100,000 families within a month. The parcels contain rice, lentils, cooking oil and other necessities, with which a family can survive one month. The parcels are distributed in the presence of the authorities and security services. Without them, the situation risks degenerating into chaos. And chaos we must absolutely avoid..."
*GK (Gonoshasthaya Kendra - 'Movement for Public Health') is an NGO founded by progressive doctors in 1972 after the Bangladeshi war of independence. For more than 20 years GK has been a valued partner of WSM. GK trains its own staff to bring health care to the farthest corners of the countryside through a network of small health centres and hospitals. GK introduced health insurance in Bangladesh and through its lobbying work helps to determine the country's health policy. In national and even international disasters GK intervenes with rescue teams, medical intervention, reconstruction of damaged houses and food and water distribution.
** as of April 6th
Today, some 2 billion people work in the informal economy; more than 1.6 billion of them are affected by the lockdown, particularly in terms of income.
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