Dhaka Courier

Dengue crisis: From disease management to governance


One of the most well-known AL politicians today is Syed Khokon, the Mayor of one half of Dhaka. He has become famous for two things; a. failure to manage the dengue crisis that is now after Dhaka spreading into the rest of Bangladesh. b. For talking far too much, most of which makes little sense and exposes more of his and the Corporation’s incompetence.

Although he is only the Mayor of half of Dhaka, he is now one of the most disappointing advertisement for the current regime. The PM Hasina has put together a new team to move up to a newer level of governance. But if the dengue performance is any indicator, this strategy is not working well at all.

Annual occurrence, regular failure

Dengue is a recurring seasonal “epidemic” in many parts of the world. In certain years it flies higher than others but like all vector born diseases, the trend is unpredictable.  There is also not just one of a kind of such diseases as the experience of chikungunia a couple of years back says. These disease strains also undergo changes and elude attempts to control them. Hence great vigilance is needed.

 Every crisis has a management strategy but as it has become obvious since dengue struck, at least Bangladesh/Dhaka doesn’t have one.  The price is being paid by the patients and the victims which includes the entire community. Meanwhile, the misery is providing profit also, now being shared between the private and public sector medical services.

To see a symbolic Bangladesh, all one has to do is see how private hospitals made money at the cost of dengue patients suffering. The government has fixed testing costs now but there are many other sectors which remain to exploit.

The causes of failure

The contributing factors are many but three are obvious. a. It’s not possible to have accountable administration at the city Corporations because the competence level is so low.  b. Corruption and greed are so all pervasive that human lives and suffering no longer matter if money is to made by people concerned such as worthless pesticide buying. c. Ruling party politicians and bureaucrats feel totally protected by the image of PM Sk. Hasina. They feel that as long as she is there they can get away by doing whatever they want.  Expressing loyalty matters, not performance.

There are other reasons but taking these together, one gets a fair idea of the breeding grounds of the crisis.

Once the crisis shit hit the ceiling, the response from the Corporations were absurd. First came denials of a crisis at all which were so extreme that even amidst the mess people laughed. As the Minister in charge of Local government and the Mayors denied the crisis, public were not just suffering but filling up hospitals. The hospitals were meanwhile filling up their pockets in one of the most cynical expressions of the powerful making money at the cost of public suffering.

Bugs and Rohingya breeding

Media was reporting every day and the official denials were arriving everyday which made it worse for the government.  It was a visible crisis which was denied. The worst example of the attitude was the statement of the Health Minister who said that “dengue mosquitoes were breeding as rapidly as the Rohingyas.” It was not an attitude of a person who was supposed to take care of the vulnerable. But in terms of absurdity nothing can beat mayor Khokon’s statement that, the pesticides were ok but the aedis mosquitoes were stronger.

Such was the impact of such statements that ex-Health Minister and senior AL leader Md. Nasim was forced to tell the Mayors to,, “talk less and work more.” Meanwhile, Minister Obaidul Quader, said that better quality pesticides were going to be imported soon as ordered by the PM and the situation would soon be under control. This begged the question as to why poor quality pesticides were being used in the first place for years?. And why was the decision to import taken so late?

Politics of blaming and the public

Meanwhile, the BNP bogey was used by the AL as expected but didn’t have much impact. Accusing BNP of “rumour mongering” and the Information Minister’s remark that AL is not responsible for the mosquito biting showed that the public and politicians had drifted apart.

The AL doesn’t realize, the public doesn’t care about the AL-BNP fight. They care about not falling sick and dying, particularly the children who are the worst affected.  And the responsibility of keeping the people safe is with the current government whoever that is. In this task, the performance is not pass worthy.

Another troubling trend is the dependency on the PM and the shifting of all responsibility to her. PM Hasina tried to introduce new blood, but this lot seems not very capable. Whenever they face a crisis, they refer it to the PM and nothing moves without the PM, at least they mean that.  One worries that a minister will one day say that they are waiting for the PM’s order to swat a mosquito biting them.  Their failure is now sent to the PM’s scorecard.

The dengue crisis has unfortunately exposed the vulnerability of governance. It’s obvious that political success is one thing and making sure that the administration performs is another.

  • Dengue crisis: From disease management to governance
  • Vol 36
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Issue 4
  • DhakaCourier

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