When you barricade one route to flow of information, many routes will be opened. Rumours may take over the truth. So, do not gag the press, rather think of it as a co-fighters in this war against the virus
A well-known proposition by Nobel Laureate Prof Amartya Sen is that a country with a democratic government and a free press would not be affected by a famine.
But how is that possible?
Sen explained that if there is a free press it would raise alarm in advance in case of any food shortage and the democratic government would respond to it by mobilising food domestically or seeking assistance from donors or friends abroad.
This is also true in case of a pandemic.
If the press is not allowed to expose the real situation and limitation of the authorities in combatting the crisis, the pandemic would worsen, rather than improve.
The world has been experiencing the dire consequences of press gagging in China where the outbreak of coronavirus was suppressed for months.
When the press was allowed to report the outbreak, the deadly virus had already spread to half of the world.
Reports claim that the scope of getting information about Covid-19 in Bangladesh is gradually shrinking as the number of patients is sharply swelling across the country.
This situation can potentially bring further disaster to the country's public health system.
We have already seen how the authorities were bullying the press for taking issue with substandard safety equipment and mismanagement in Covid-19-dedicated hospitals.
Even some doctors who raised the issue on social media have been punished. They have been warned against divulging anything to the press regarding the healthcare sector of the country.
It is unfortunate that despite getting enough time and resources, the health authorities have committed unpardonables failure in making arrangements to cope with the impending crisis.
A loud alarm was also raised by members of the public, health experts and even by the World Health Organization for taking immediate and appropriate measures.
However, I must say that incompetence, insensitivity and a profit-mongering attitude of the authorities has dragged the situation to this sorrow state.
People have already lost their faith in the health authorities even before we have felt the full brunt of the pandemic. Only God knows where we are destined to end up.
At the beginning, all the high-ups in the health ministry were seen giving lip-service, with IEDCR facing the coronavirus pandemic alone. It seemed IEDCR was solely responsible to face the situation.
A lone IEDCR lab was testing the samples collected from a few suspected patients.
It took almost four months to raise the numbers of labs to 29. But we now see that almost every public university and research organisation has PCR machines, and thus they are capable of testing for cororonavirus.
Why did it take the authorities four months to know that the country has so many PCR machines?
After one and half months of the detection of first three patients, we now see that most ICUs are not equipped to provide services required to save the lives.
These ICUs are not newly purchased or installed. Every year, a budget is allocated for the maintenance of the ICUs. Now, when people need it the most, the ICUs are not functioning. Is this a joke?
There is also a scarcity of oxygen cylinders at the hospitals. What did the authorities do in the last 45 days? Who are to blame for pushing these people to death?
Hundreds of suspected Covid-19 patients are lining up every day in front of BSMMU for getting their samples tested. Reports say that only a handful of them are being allowed to give their samples for the test.
This is not the protocol for testing samples of Covid-19 patients.
If anybody shows coronavirus symptoms, health technologists should run there to collect the sample. But in Bangladesh, getting health officials to come to your doorsteps has become a distant dream.
And getting tests done at the hospitals have become worse than a nightmare.
The people are now being informed that there are not enough health technologists in the government hospitals to collect and maintain samples. The question therefore arises, why are there not enough technologists?
Thousands of health technologists are unemployed in the country.
By this time, a handful of them could have been appointed on a contractual basis and be engaged in the fight, after a short training.
Another issue is that most people are in the dark regarding the services in the Covid-19 dedicated hospitals.
We have no information about how the admitted patients are being treated at these hospitals. However, the few stories of first-hand experiences of both health workers and patients that surfaced on the media paint a gloomy picture.
Media reports claim that patients did not get necessary services from the health workers at the hospitals as the latter are afraid going near the patients in fear of getting infected, as many still do not have a PPE.
We are yet to find any footage or image of these specialised hospitals in our media, while foreign countries are regularly publishing images of such hospitals in their media.
Amidst all these shortcomings, the only hope for the people of Bangladesh is our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Whatever services are reaching to the people, it is because of her.
But we have to remember that she is a human being and has some limitations. If she has to do everything, why are many others taking perks of the public fund?
Finally, the concerned authorities are not interested in admitting to their failures. They want to keep their ears covered and eyes closed. And gag the press. They think the less they inform, the more their image brightens.
This is a foolish thinking.
When you barricade one route to flow of information, many routes will be opened.
Rumours may take over the truth. So, do not gag the press, rather think of it as a co-fighters in this war against the virus.
Nazrul Islam is a freelance journalist.