Committees to Tackle Pandemic: Too much hype, little outcome



The committees formed by the government to help it make policy decisions to put the brakes on the pandemic have not been working properly or their recommendations were ignored.

Since March, when the country started experiencing a gradual rise in the number of coronavirus cases, the government formed several “high-powered” and national-level committees to advise the government on how to stop the spread of the disease while others were tasked with implementing the decisions.

Many of the committees barely convened any meeting or they saw their recommendations ignored. The lack of coordination among the committees and among the government’s implementing agencies made the situation worse.

But the government formed even more committees to plug the holes.

Meanwhile, new cases kept multiplying.

“We have a law enacted in 2018 regarding pandemic [Infectious Disease (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act, 2018] … ,” said Prof Muzaherul Huq, former regional adviser, WHO, South East Asia Region.

“If we can implement the infectious disease prevention law and follow the WHO guidelines properly, we do not need any committee,” he told The Daily Star.

Many of the committees do not have any responsibility or are accountable, but an individual is responsible and accountable, he said, adding that if the government needed expert advice, it could simply consult one.

POOR COORDINATION AND IGNORED

The government on March 1 formed a 26-member national committee with Health Minister Zahid Maleque, the cabinet secretary, senior secretaries, and secretaries.

It is the highest-level committee.

As per its role defined in a circular, the committee would implement and review strategies and issue new directives.

Ever since its formation, the committee held three meetings and the last one was on May 30.

Despite being the chief of the committee, the health minister was not consulted when the decision to reopen the garment factories was made.

The minister in public expressed his helplessness and frustrations regarding the matter.

“I have been made the chairman of the national committee as the health minister. However, the decisions are taken on behalf of the committee without our [health ministry] knowledge,” he said on April 6.

“Even decisions like the closure of factories, prayers at mosques, and suspension of transportation are not discussed with us. I cannot reply to journalists’ questions … I am blamed for not knowing anything despite being the head of the national committee,” the minister added.

Another 31-member high-profile committee formed with ministers never held a meeting.

There is also a national coordination committee led by the director general of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). Noted medicine expert ABM Abdullah is the adviser to the committee.

But Abdullah last month said he was never called to a meeting of the committee.

On April 18, the government formed a 17-member national technical advisory committee to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, contain community transmission, and make recommendations for improving the quality of services at hospitals.

Led by Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council President Mohammad Shahidullah, the committee members sat nine times and came up with various suggestions and strategies.

But most of their suggestions fell on deaf ears.

On May 28, this committee warned that the number of Covid-19 cases would rise unless certain conditions were met before easing the 66-day shutdown that began on March 26.

But the government, apparently desperate to restart the economy, decided to reopen shopping malls, and other businesses from May 10 on a limited scale before the Eid.

A day later, it resumed transport services.

The country started seeing a steady rise in infections and deaths after the reopening.

The committee, at its ninth meeting on June 10, deemed it necessary to urgently impose complete lockdown of large areas based on the number of infected people there.

But the government responded slowly. It first put East Rajabazar in the capital under lockdown on trial and Wari is set to be locked down from tomorrow.

There is an eight-member public health expert divisional advisors’ group, which issued projections and strategic solutions to problems.

“We gave decisions considering all health aspects but they have other issues like the economy and people’s livelihood to consider. So, in many cases, we don’t find reflection of our suggestions in the implementation process,” Prof Shah Monir Hossain, a member of divisional advisors’ group, told The Daily Star last week.

“I won’t say that all our decisions are ignored. But I will not also say that our suggestions are accepted fully either.”

The committee recommended not to reopen shopping malls and garment factories at that time and called for strict restriction on people’s movement during the Eid holidays.

“But the suggestions were ignored. It was not a health decision, rather it was administrative decision. Now we can see the outcome,” he said.

But the government has not stopped forming committees.

On June 27, The DGHS formed 10 more core committees on implementing measures to contain Covid-19.

And to integrate all these committees, a coordination committee led by the director general of the DGHS was also formed.

A couple of days later, the health ministry formed a 15-member committee to contain the virus and ensure healthcare services.

Led by Kazi Zebunnessa Begum, the committee will implement the prime minister’s directives to control the outbreak, handle any new situation, and take steps to expand the Covid-19 treatment facilities to private hospitals.





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