A Look into the Delta Variant in Bangladesh
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
On May 08, 2021, the first case of the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 was identified in Bangladesh (Hasan). The variant originated in India, which surrounds Bangladesh on its north, west, and east sides (Lupsha). Both countries share a long and permeable border, where many migrant workers have crossed from India to Bangladesh and vice versa. The frequent interaction between Bengali and Indian populations is said to have accelerated the propagation of the virus into Bangladesh (Ellis).
Since May 08, the number of delta variant cases have only been increasing in the country (Reality Check Team), and the Bangladeshi Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control, and Research Center has confirmed the variant as the most active form of the virus, making this period Bangladesh’s third wave of COVID-19 cases (Hasan). The rapid dominance of this variant makes sense as the World Health Organization described the delta variant as the “most transmissible of the variants identified so far” (Reality Check Team). Thus, many scientists in Bangladesh, such as A.S.M. Alamgir, vouch for people to maintain health safety rules and stay at home. Alamgir previously mentioned that if people fail to follow these rules, “this wave of the pandemic in Bangladesh could be catastrophic” (Marnin).
As the number of cases only continues to increase, it becomes increasingly significant to understand why our nation is failing to quickly curb case numbers. There are three major reasons that the delta variant is successfully propagating within the nation: 1) very slow vaccine rollout, 2) inadequate healthcare facilities, especially in rural and border areas, and 3) poor health awareness and communications.
As of now, around 3% of the Bengali population has been vaccinated - only 3% (Reality Check Team). While people who are vaccinated can still get sick by the delta variant, their chances of developing severe or lethal forms of the COVID-19 disease is dramatically reduced. For example, the Pfizer vaccine has been found to be 96% effective against hospitalization from the delta variant after two doses (Aubrey). Therefore, greater measures must be enacted by the Bangladeshi government to equitably and quickly distribute vaccines.
However, that may seem difficult as the distribution of healthcare facilities in Bangladesh shows a clear inequity - an urban-rural divide. Medical facilities in Bangladesh are concentrated in urban areas, leaving many rural areas with insufficient and oftentimes inaccessible healthcare services (Al-Zaman). This disparity is a significant issue today, as many of the areas that have been severely affected by the virus include border locations and accompanying rural areas (Ellis). Poor access to adequate healthcare facilities in border and rural areas has been another major push for the rapid transmission of the virus (Al-Zaman). Another reason that the existing healthcare facilities are often inadequate in curbing COVID-19 cases is because medical workers have been provided with lower quality medical equipment, making the doctors’ mortality rate of Bangladesh the highest in the world (Al-Zaman). Clearly, more needs to be done in regard to healthcare facilities to protect our doctors and to bridge the gap between rural and urban populations.
More also needs to be done to increase health awareness and communications, so the public is more aware of how to control the variant. The Bangladeshi government did impose a strict lockdown since July 1, with people (excluding essential workers, such as garment workers) allowed to leave their homes only in an emergency and soldiers put in place to monitor the streets (Ani). However, the lockdown has been temporarily lifted, so people can celebrate Eid ul-Adha freely (Reality Check Team). This decision has exasperated many health experts (Alam), as they feel that it may only exacerbate the progression of the variant in the Bengali population. Bangladesh has a very high population density and low health awareness (Al-Zaman), which are both great causes for concern to someone trying to control the virus. It appears that the health experts may not be wrong with their thinking. In one instance, instead of following social distancing rules, more than 15,000 people came to Charigram from different parts of Bangladesh to admire or gawk at a tiny dwarf cow. This all happened within three days, and people are still coming in to see the cow (O’Neill). The fact that many Bengalis feel it is okay to do this instead of following health safety guidelines is concerning and should act as a wake-up call for greater health awareness community education programs and more accessible and honest communication from health experts to the public.
If the Bangladeshi government can 1) execute an equitable and speedy vaccine distribution, 2) provide more accessible healthcare resources in rural and border areas, 3) place greater quality personal protective equipment in healthcare facilities, and 4) increase health awareness and communications in the public, then hopefully, the variant can be curbed quickly.
Al-Zaman, Md Sayeed. “Healthcare Crisis in Bangladesh during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Oct. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7543838/#!po=31.8182.
Alam, Julhas. “Bangladesh Lifts Lockdown to Celebrate, Exasperating Experts.” GoSkagit, 19 July 2021, www.goskagit.com/community/health/bangladesh-lifts-lockdown-to-celebrate-exasperating-experts/article_c257569c-ace9-5e02-a073-9083113e37d7.html.
Ani. “Bangladesh to Impose Nationwide Lockdown from July 1 Instead of June 28.” Business Standard, Business-Standard, 27 June 2021, www.business-standard.com/article/international/bangladesh-to-impose-nationwide-lockdown-from-july-1-instead-of-june-28-121062700318_1.html.
Aubrey, Allison. “With the Delta Variant Spreading Fast, Is It Time to Mask up Again?” Opb, OPB, 18 July 2021, www.opb.org/article/2021/07/18/with-the-delta-variant-spreading-fast-is-it-time-to-mask-up-again/.
Ellis, Hannah. “Bangladesh Troops to Enforce Lockdown as Covid Death Toll Hits Record High.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 June 2021, www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/29/bangladesh-soldiers-set-to-patrol-streets-as-national-covid-lockdown-looms.
Hasan, Mehedi. “IEDCR: 78% Covid Cases in June Caused by Delta Variant.” Dhaka Tribune, 4 July 2021, www.dhakatribune.com/health/coronavirus/2021/07/04/iedcr-delta-variant-dominant-in-bangladesh.
Lupsha, Jonny. “Coronavirus Delta Variant Cripples Bangladesh in Third COVID-19 Wave.” The Great Courses Daily, 9 July 2021, www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/coronavirus-delta-variant-cripples-bangladesh-in-third-covid-19-wave/.
Marnin, Julia. “Spread of COVID Delta Variant Puts Bangladesh in New National Lockdown.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 30 June 2021, www.newsweek.com/spread-covid-delta-variant-puts-bangladesh-new-national-lockdown-1605572.
O’Neill, Jesse. “Udder Madness: Thousands Defy Lockdown to Gawk at Tiny Cow in Bangladesh.” New York Post, New York Post, 10 July 2021, nypost.com/2021/07/10/tiny-dwarf-cow-draws-huge-crowds-in-bangladesh-amid-pandemic/.
Reality Check Team. “Delta Variant: Which Asian Countries Are Seeing Rising Cases?” BBC News, BBC, 19 July 2021, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53420537.