Life in the time of coronavirus in a developing nation

The new coronavirus is making its deadly mark around the world. It has reached to 188 countries with around 3,15,000 people being infected. Around 13500 souls have departed from the earth. When you’ll be reading this, certainly the numbers will be higher.

Whenever I read online newspapers or go through the twitter threads, I come across stories about the struggles of the communities around the world. Because it is too easy to be caught up in a bubble in the virtual world, I mostly find tales from the North American and European communities. Most of them are developed countries with transparent (almost) political culture and the relatively efficient public healthcare system.

It’s a different story in developing countries to some degree. I’m going to write down my experiences so far from dealing with the adverse effects caused by the COVID-19.

I’m a senior software engineer working for North America’s largest field service solution provider Field Nation in its Dhaka office. I’ve a family of three members - my wife and 11 months old daughter.

Bangladesh is a country situated in the South Asian region. It is the eighth-most populous country (~ 170 million), and one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a landmass of 147,570 square kilometers (92nd in the world). It’s a developing country and on track for graduation as UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) in 2024.

Institutional corruption is prevalent like in many developing countries. It’s ranked 146th among 179 countries on Transparency Internationa’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Its capital city is Dhaka where I live.

In my country, 27 people are infected and 2 persons have died according to the government report. But in most cases, the actual number is higher than what is in the report. It’s the harsh realities of most of the developing countries. The motivation behind this is that the opposition is always prepared to take the numbers and use it against the ruling party instead of cooperating with them for the sake of the masses. The real numbers frustrate, panic, and agitate people which may lead the situation to go out of hand. Suppressing the truth helps to maintain a positive image even though for a short period.

The public healthcare system is not capable of handling a pandemic like COVID-19. For most of us, there’s no health insurance. There’s only one laboratory that tests for coronavirus. There’s a shortage of testing kits. This leads to a lower volume of testing which results in lower numbers of positive cases. An unwanted sweet cycle!

There are not enough Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) for healthcare workers. Without the PPE’s the frontline healthcare givers are at grave risk of infection. We already have a situation where a patient has died because the responsible persons did not give the treatment out of fear that she might have the COVID-19. Hospitals are turning away any cases with respiratory illness because they don’t want to take the risk.

The citizens are getting increasingly aware of the situation. They are panicked as well. People are hoarding foods, cleaning accessories, and even diapers. Some unscrupulous businessmen are taking advantage of the crisis by limiting the supply. The government has started to take action against them but it’s less than enough.

Fortunately, my employer has allowed all the employees to work remotely. Previously I worked remotely sometimes but it was only me with the rest of the team members in office. So this is an entirely new experience communicating and collaborating remotely with the team. The decision has come as much relief to me and my family as we’re committed to the social distancing.

It is hard to ignore the gravity of this unprecedented situation and completely focus on technical jargon. I become sad as I see the number of infections and deaths rise exponentially. Will I die? Will I lose my dear ones? The thoughts of fear of death and loss crawl into the mind and I ask it - isn’t our life is uncertain by default? I may die at any moment due to a road accident or an earthquake. My dear ones might die in the same way too all of a sudden. Does that mean we should stop experiencing life? No, not at all. We will fight and do the best we can do. This is us. This is what makes us human beings.

Just a couple of months ago we were debating whether a global recession would happen or not and how it would happen. To our surprise, it is here already induced by the coronavirus. How long it will last? How long it will take the economy to return to the normal proceedings? How it will affect my job? I don’t know. I tell myself that thinking about this will not provide any benefit. In a time when the economy is flourishing, people go through financial hard times as well for various reasons. In a recession, the economy slows down but it does not stop. I’ll try to perform at my very best and keep sharpening my skills as much as I can.

Sometimes I feel the urge to stock a couple of months of necessities. But I’ve made a conscious decision not to go beyond of what amount I buy normally. It’ll make things available to those who need it more. Even it be a single person. I feel good about it. Even I stock all the foods and toilet papers in the world, I won’t live forever to enjoy those. We need to be rational.

I’ve limited the use of social media. It’s full of rumors and fearmongering posts that overshadows the beneficial ones.

As someone has written it somewhere, the coronavirus can’t walk by itself. It needs a carrier. If we don’t act as a carrier, it will be defeated. Pandemics do cause substantial losses but they don’t last long. The tough times lead to stronger and united us. The 1918 Spanish flu led to the development of public health care systems. The experience of dealing with the 2002-03 SARS outbreak is helping us to fight the COVID-19. It is certain that our responses to a future pandemic will be far better.

The current outbreak will go away. It’s just we don’t know the timing. Until then stay safe. Stay at home. Stay united.

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