Christians lead charge in Bangladesh’s COVID-19 battle

Despite being a small minority, Christians are dedicated
to responding to the coronavirus pandemic

Stephan Uttom and Rock Ronald Rozario, UCA News

Christians—most of whom are Catholics—are a tiny minority accounting for less than half a percent of Muslim-majority Bangladesh’s more than 160 million people.

But they have been held in high regard for decades for vital contributions to education, healthcare and the nation’s socioeconomic development.

As the country continues to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, Christians have shown selfless love and dedication in fighting the battle head on both individually and institutionally.

Since the pandemic struck in early March, Christians have been active in various roles—from collecting and distributing donations to the poor and needy as individuals or through parishes, dioceses and charities, or treating patients as dedicated doctors and medical staff.

There are about 280 Christian doctors and about 4,000 Christian nurses in Bangladesh, most of whom have been actively involved in the COVID-19 response, according to Dr. Edward Pallab Rozario, vice-president of the Christian Medical Association of Bangladesh (CMAB).

“These doctors and nurses have taken great risks in serving COVID-19 patients and some of them and their family members have been infected. Yet they were not disheartened and returned to work after recovering,” Rozario, 47, a Catholic, told UCA News.

Rozario himself tested positive for COVID-19 in late April and recovered in May after home quarantining.

“A number of Christian doctors have been offering online and mobile services to patients, and they have encouraged people to stay strong mentally,” he said.

There are 20 hospitals operated by Catholics and Protestants in Bangladesh, according to the CMAB. Additionally, the Catholic Church runs about 70 community clinics, mostly in rural areas. All these health facilities continue to operate and serve people during the pandemic.

Mithushilak Murmu, 49, a prominent Christian writer and researcher, has documented the contribution of Christian hospitals in Bangladesh’s COVID-19 battle.

“Christians might be a small minority but they are a significant minority, which they have demonstrated again during this pandemic. They have dedicated whatever resources they have to be a part of the national battle,” Murmu, 49, an ethnic Santal and Lutheran Christian, told UCA News.

Christian Mission Hospital in the northern city of Rajshahi, established by the Anglican Church of Bangladesh in 1877, dedicated itself to fighting COVID-19 on April 15.

Its administrators handed it over to the state-run Rajshahi Medical College and Hospital, and since then, under the supervision of a 15-member medical team, this famed Christian hospital has been serving COVID-19 patients.

In Chokoria in Cox’s Bazar district in the southeast, the newly renovated Memorial Christian Hospital resumed operating on Feb. 28. The hospital has set up a polymer chain reaction laboratory for COVID-19 testing and established a COVID-19 isolation unit in May with funding from its own sources and local government.

Lutheran Aid to Medicine in Bangladesh (LAMB) Hospital in Parbotipur in Dinajpur district in northern Bangladesh launched a 10-bed COVID-19 intensive care unit in late March.

Meanwhile, the 113-year-old Christian Hospital in Chandraghona in Rangamati district in the southeast has maintained a 24/7 flu corner and special observation room since late March. When necessary, the hospital refers patients to specialized COVID-19 hospitals.

“Christians have been engaged in an undeclared war against COVID-19,” added Murmu, a father of two and program coordinator of National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh, an alliance of evangelical churches.

Besides individual, parish level and diocesan-wide donations, dozens of Christian charities have raised funds to support poor and marginalized communities across Bangladesh suffering economically as a result of the pandemic.

Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh has distributed cash, food and health aid to 44,000 families worth 140 million taka (US$1.72 million) through eight regional offices across the country, according to Ranjon Francis Rozario, Caritas’ assistant executive director.

“The poor, needy and most affected people irrespective of caste, creed and gender have received our support. We have secured funding from existing projects and our donors were generous in offering funds. Catholic schools and colleges have also donated money to support our initiatives,” Rozario told UCA News.

Caritas has worked with government agencies and other charities where it was necessary, he said.

World Vision Bangladesh, a Protestant charity, has offered cash aid to more than 18,000 families and food aid to more than 35,000 households, according to its website.

Another leading Christian charity, the Christian Commission for Development of Bangladesh (CCDB), has assisted 7,000 families, said David Milton, deputy director of the organization.

“At first CCDB staff decided to donate a month’s salary to start the COVID-19 charity and then donors came up with funding. We mostly offered cash handouts, but also food aid where it was necessary,” Milton told UCA News.

“The impacts of the coronavirus will be long-lasting, so we are planning programs and activities to support people effectively in the coming days and weeks.”

Bangladesh recorded its first three COVID-19 cases on March 8. Since then, the virus has infected about 244,020 people and caused the deaths of about 3,234 as of Aug. 4, according to government figures.

Featured image: Catholic nurse Irani Baroi (left) visits a ward at a government hospital in Narayanganj district. Christian doctors, nurses, hospitals and charities have made vital contributions in Bangladesh’s Covid-19 battle. (Stephan Uttom, UCA News/Bangladesh)

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The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) is a ministry that provides news, features and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia. www.ucanews.com