Not only Bangladesh but also the world is busy with handling the disastrous effects of COVID-19. Due to Coronavirus, thousands of people have died, more than three hundred thousand people are infected and millions of people around the world are losing their jobs. In Bangladesh, the government has initiated lockdowns in affected areas.
Since February this year, remote areas of Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagracchari was hit by measles. The outbreak hit hard Rangamati's Baghaicchari and Bandarban's Lama Upazilas and some villages of Khagracchari. In the last two months, more than 350 were infected by measles. And the death toll reached 10.Measles is a highly infectious illness caused by the Rubeola virus. It is a viral disease that can spread rapidly. Also known as rubeola or morbilli, measles is an endemic disease, meaning it is continually present in a community and many people develop resistance. However, if measles enters an area where the people have never been exposed, the result can be devastating.
The children who died of measles belonged to the Chakma, Tripura, and Mro communities. These communities live in remote places in the CHT area of Bangladesh. Parts of those communities are infected regularly since the outbreak started from February this year in CHT.
The people in those communities blamed the negligence of the government towards them. They claimed that the government had not reached their homes with immunisation programme and healthcare services. There is no regular medical care in those areas and no health care facilities for the inhabitants of indigenous community. Some of the affected families are so severely poor that they cannot bear the cost of treatment.
Bangladesh Army, on the other hand, is doing an excellent job in the area. They are providing partial medical care to infected people. Some of the children were so critically affected by measles that they couldn't be treated locally, and that is why they had to be taken to hospitals with higher facilities. Some of the patients with critical conditions were flown to Chattogram by Bangladesh Army in helicopter.
Government officials in the area have accepted the fact that the Expanded Program on Immunisation (EPI) program was not implemented in these measles affected areas properly. Besides, there are rarely any medical facilities in those remote areas. After the outbreak in different Upazilas, medical teams were formed with a minimum of one MBBS doctor in it. And it was their responsibility to observe the situation of the measles outbreak in those particular Upazilas.
Many medical officers of those medical teams formed by Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO) claimed that affected children are suffering from acute malnutrition. In Sajek Union, there are only two community clinics for over 16,000 people living in those areas, and they are mostly ethnic minority communities. Why are people of Bangladesh still out of the government's immunisation program? Why is there a lack of medical facilities? Bangladesh's government has already declared this country as food self-sufficient, then why there are children with malnutrition? CHT has a history of rebellion due to this inequality between the hills and the plain.Let us not go into that debate. But we all must agree that the measles outbreak affected areas are severally underdeveloped. Many social and humanitarian organisations have expressed concern over the outbreak. Now government authorities should seek how they can get to peoples' home with immunisation programs and healthcare facilities for the ethnic minority people of the CHT.
In addition, there is a commitment from the government to set up community clinics, sanitation, nutrition, and water management program in the affected areas. The government officials and people’s representatives should see how these programs can be implemented at the earliest possible times.
Bangladesh has done overwhelming development in the economic sector, and Asian Development Bank has reported that if this country can manage the COVID-19 well, then at the end of the crisis, the country's economy will be the strongest.
To ensure the benefits of these economic developments towards the citizens of the country, we should make sure that those people in the hills get their share. Otherwise, keeping one part deprived and endangered, the other party will not be happy for long. Now the government should take necessary steps to ensure that no more children from the ethnic minority from the hills lose their lives due to measles.
Krishna Kumar Saha, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration,
Comilla University, Bangladesh