Kutubuddin Ahmed, Chairman of textile and denim companies Envoy and Sheltech Groups in Bangladesh, recently recovered from Covid-19. Here, he writes about his struggle with the disease, his reflections on life and the road to recovery for the Bangladeshi economy.
"I am a lucky man.
I have come across countless good hearted-people and friends in my life who have stood by me during difficult times. Consciously I never intended to harm anyone. I tried to feel satisfied with my achievements. I have worked hard throughout my life, and I am doing the same now. I am a family man who believes hard work, honesty, dedication and support of the family are the combined mantra for success. I had been hospitalized with coronavirus for 12 days. Hundreds of texts from family, friends and well-wishers marked the hospital stay. Those messages of love and prayer would bring tears to my eyes. I have recovered from the infection thanks to the mercy of the Almighty and prayers of all. I hope to resume office work from next week. My battle against the deadly virus was not an easy one since I have been an asthma patient for almost 40 years.
I tested positive to the virus on May 21. None of us were ready for such a diagnosis. I had no other symptoms except for a bit of fever and loss of taste. Later, I did not develop other symptoms and was quite well both physically and mentally. A hospital with oxygen support and intensive care unit facility became important to me as I was worried the virus could take a nasty turn anytime.
Neither private nor public hospitals had any vacancy at the time. They were turning patients away. People dying in ambulances after being rejected by multiple healthcare facilities were making the headlines. On the other hand, availing treatment abroad was not an option as flights were cancelled. A messed-up situation all around. Former FBCCI president AK Azad bhai suggested getting admitted to the Square Hospital. He had also tested positive to the virus and had recovered after availing treatment there, so I got admitted to the hospital.
Square at that time had only one unit dedicated to Covid-19 patients. There were lots of patients and the unit had a common bathroom. But the environment was good. The medical personnel were cordial. But a hospital is a hospital, home for sick people. Who would prefer to stay there unless they become ill? This write-up is basically about my thoughts during the hospital stay.
The stay was significant and it will remain significant for the rest of my life. A life without the family, friends or even visitors. Adjusting to such a life is difficult, but what else could be done? Therefore, I tried to use the time to rediscover and understand the meaning of life. I looked back to see whether I did anything wrong, and then tried to interpret the future.
I tried to remain active as far as I could. I readjusted my routine to communicating with my family, replying to texts, walking inside the ward, talking to other patients and praying for all. I used to talk a lot to myself. I gave myself a lot of time instead of being obsessed with the virus infection. I decided to spend more on charity though I was already involved in many of those. I tailored a plan and will let others know about it if everything goes right.
I want to work for people so that they can improve their way of living. I am aware that the affluent have already stood by the marginalized people of society. Even then, the task would be easier if the rich could collectively lend a hand to the poor. The pandemic has wiped out jobs for millions, and the number of poor is rising. I used to think of the people and this would make me depressed every time. I prayed for my family and every employee of Sheltech and Envoy.
All coronavirus patients do not show the same symptoms. I saw patients with numerous symptoms ranging from muscle pain to breathing difficulties. There were people who even had all the symptoms together. But in general, the impact of the virus depends on the immunity power of the individual. For me, isolation was greater than the physical pain. There is nothing more stressful than living all alone. Another issue is anxiety. Weakness will grip you both physically and mentally. There are so many indescribable physical actions and reactions– you can only feel it.
We are dissecting the health system since the virus outbreak, which I think is natural and logical. I know our resources are scant. But why have the USA, Italy or Spain failed? What is their reason? I think the world leaders did not consider public health as much they were concerned over medical treatment. They only calculated progress through industrialization and growth. No one is bothered about the environment. The bottom line is -- none ever could imagine a virus would be so strong as to haunt us for months. Therefore, all calculations got jeopardized and the virus has put the developed and underdeveloped countries on the same boat.
We have lacking, wastage and mismanagement over resource and utilization. Even after that, the frontline people – medical personnel, police or journalists – tried to do their best. Public and private capacity to fight the virus is being expanded gradually though it is still inadequate. Proper management I think is a major challenge for a country as densely populated as Bangladesh. I believe we still could serve more, even with limited resources, through smart management.
All of us will possibly get infected by Covid-19 as the spread of virus is escalating. But all will not require hospital care. The health directorate should ensure proper treatment for the few who will require medical attention. Besides, we need countrywide aggressive awareness campaign to make people aware of the protective measures. This will ease the pressure on the healthcare system and many lives could be saved. People should be made aware of following proper health guidelines instead of following online propaganda. Social networking site-based fake health messages could lead us to further troubles.
Our health system now requires the attention of both private and public sectors. This is the time for emergency response, which will have short and long-term plans. I did not need oxygen support. But there are patients who required ICU support. I saw in the news that many people were not getting treatment, while some died without any treatment. I heard that the government has taken up an initiative to expand oxygen supply facility, isolation and ventilation on an emergency basis. I think the sooner the better. Besides, we need to dedicate more hospitals for Covid-19 treatment as the infection goes up every day.
I believe the post coronavirus world will see a tremendous change in healthcare system and Bangladesh will not remain isolated. Because every new journey began from a crisis. We need to speed up and expand testing. I heard about rapid testing, which can give the result within 15 to 30 minutes. If there is really such technology, we should introduce it. The bottom line is, we need to bring the virus test and treatment within the reach of common people.
Scientists hope to invent a vaccine this year or in the next year. Many countries are at present doing relentless research to get the vaccine, while many have reached the trail phases. Countries are booking in advance to get the vaccine as soon as it is invented, and they are pouring in billions for that. We should follow the lead so that we can get the vaccine if the world discovers one.
Until then, we have to learn to live with the virus and to invest time to continue the battle. Humankind will certainly survive in the battle. We need to survive until an effective vaccine is invented. We should overcome the situation patiently and plan to survive for the next six months. We have to reduce the expenditure and pay if requires, but we have to survive. For this, we need to adopt whatever strategy it takes. Survival will be the biggest investment and that is what we should count on.
We have not downsized our office so far and cancelled any payments. We just postponed the provident funds for a few months. We are assessing our institutional framework to readjust the expenditure. This is temporary. But we will certainly not terminate our low-level workers.
Each crisis brings new potential and scopes. The virus crisis has taught us crisis management and the need to rethink life and the environment. There are scopes to revisit the decisions on medical treatment, education and humanity. Profit does not mean consumption, rather it means equal distribution and equal restructuration. The pandemic has brought us chances to make life confined by development, industrialization and growth, easier. It is not enough to simply achieve middle-income status; at the same time, we need to lift up the marginalized people. We need to look closer at society and minimize the inequalities.
Many of us dream of the developed world – happiness all around. But the virus has exposed the vulnerabilities – careless attitudes of the world leaders, failures, helplessness, deaths and a display of sheer chaos. The grim pictures of the world health system flood our news feed now.
We not only have to win against the virus, but also against hunger. Many of us will not get back the life we had before the pandemic. This is the new normal for institutions, non-institutions and elsewhere. But losing faith will not help us. We will get back on our feet if we have confidence in ourselves. I heard about the apparel industry woes during the hospital stay, and have been hearing now too. The sector provides the country with 80 to 85 percent export earnings. It is difficult to tackle such a huge loss. On the other hand, it is natural for the readymade industries to draw criticism since it is the largest sector. To earn the trust of the people, this sector leaders should show more mature attitudes.
The textile sector missed a season while the next one is uncertain too. But the situation will not be the same forever. Europe and America will begin buying. The question is when, and there is no answer to that. But we will have to be ready and continue production. Crisis is not an issue for the Bangladeshi entrepreneurs. Their concern is rather where is the market and who will be the buyers.
I do believe that our future will change if we can survive the next six months. This is more true for the readymade garments sector. Other sectors will also get scope and they will have to exploit it. We will have to wait and sacrifice for the sake of the future.
I heard during my hospital stay that Spain has nominated me for their highest civilian 'Knight Officer' title. The news gave me relief during a period of stress and great satisfaction. I am grateful to the Spanish royal family, government and people.
I would like to say that there is nothing to be afraid of. If you get scared, you will certainly lose the battle. Stay positive, stay lively. Anxiety and tension will not help prevent the virus. Therefore, prepare yourself for the future. The main fight for survival is yet to begin. Gain energy for that, and save money for future investment.
Rest assured, the future is ours."