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How a German doctor is helping Bangladesh’s Daily Labor

Julia Wes : Dr. Jan Halatek is Chief Doctor of the Intensive Care Unit in Braunschweig, Germany and has been treating several Corona patients since the breakout. His daughter, who visited Bangladesh for the first time in 2011 as a Microfinance intern, is now living in Bangladesh and has decided to stay in Dhaka despite Corona. Together they are now trying to help people with their daily lives in Bangladesh.

“When my daughter called me from Bangladesh in March to discuss her decision between staying in Bangladesh or returning to Germany due to rising cases of COVID-19, she understood that the virus is now part of our environment and it will likely be an ongoing problem for years to come.  She explained how different nations have different possibilities and lockdowns will lead to different outcomes around the globe. Every country is unique:  different history, different development status, different cultures. We won’t be able to “flatten the curve” through lockdowns in a way that it will prevent its return and we can’t stay in lockdowns for years. We need to focus on the economic consequences worldwide.

The situation for many is bleak.  Millions of daily workers will be left without an income source during the lockdown and many services won’t be used even when the lockdown is lifted. It is well known how international brands cheated the garment sector and how many entrepreneurs and startups won’t be able to continue due to sharp revenue decline over the coming months.  She noted that business investment will also worsen, hampering further adaptations to Covid-19.

I asked her “are you not afraid of the virus?” She replied that “I have been traveling so much over the last couple of years. I exposed myself to malaria, dengue, rabies, and other very harmful diseases that we don’t have in Germany or Europe. Maybe I was lucky to survive or maybe experience guides me to take precautions. I am not afraid of Corona, but I am afraid of the economic consequences of these lockdowns, the starvation, the general decrease in wealth, increasing inequality, and selfishness.  This crisis can only lead to a disaster resulting in an even worsening political landscape.”

My daughter is 32 years old. It was hard to tell her what to do as a child and I take all her concerns seriously and support her. Her employer fired her without prior notice at the beginning of Corona. Nevertheless, she goes outside every day to support market people, rickshaw pullers and smaller shop owners in their desperate need to earn some money. She supports 6 families in the village through regular bkash transactions since the crisis started and some 11 families in Dhaka on a regular basis. In addition, she managed donations to organize Iftar and weekly food bags for those in need. I studied medicine to help people, my daughter studied Business Administration to help people. I have my battlefield. She has hers.

For me as a doctor the most important thing is to advise her how she can protect herself from the virus in an overpopulated country like Bangladesh, which is actually simple:

The virus can enter the body through our mouth, nose, or eyes. Therefore the most important thing is to never touch the face and cover the mouth and nose with any face mask or even a scarf. Wash or sanitize hands as much as possible and try to keep distance from other people of at least 1,5 meters. Since testing facilities are still insufficient in Bangladesh, trace any contact. Check on them after 2 weeks if they had any symptoms of Corona.  Although she is out every day, there is no indication that she has become infected. On her side, she doesn’t live with high-risk groups like the elderly and she is childless.  These factors allow her to pursue this lifestyle relatively risk-free.

In my opinion, it is very important to protect high-risk groups and isolate them, but this does not include people who keep our economies running.  By following the hygienic precautions of masks, hand washing, and social distancing, we should be able to continue economic activity in both Germany and in Bangladesh, respecting the virus, but living without fear.

The lockdown in Bangladesh will be lifted soon and many people in Bangladesh will need an alternative income to survive in this new Corona business environment. Like my daughter, I want to help as best I can. This may be limited to providing money and training for local businesses on Corona safe product handling, a key to keeping the virus out of our houses.

My solution: I invested 10 Tsd Euro into Altbab, a 39-year-old Rickshaw Waller in Gulshan, who visited class 1 only but speaks and writes English fluently. For the last 2 weeks we have been setting up his business through Whatsapp chat and video and I am happy to announce the launch of “GoodFood” in Bangladesh, a collective initiative by Rickshaw Waller and market vendors to tackle post lockdown business by providing organic, corona-safe vegetable and fruit to your doorstep. The food will be Corona safe from farmer through to the packaging, something that can be assured through training and frequent quality control checks.

In the name of our workers, I am hoping for a high number of orders from the people of Bangladesh.  This will provide the consumers with high quality and safe products while at the same time helping those who now face exceptional need. It is, as they say, a “win-win” situation.

Simple inbox our order on our Facebook page “GoodFood”.

Writer : An officer in German Embassy, Dhaka

 

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