• Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

OP-ED: Profiting off our misery

  • Published at 12:49 pm June 8th, 2020
united hospital
Soon to be forgotten REUTERS

When will the systemic abuse of power in our country stop?

On May 27, five patients faced an uncalled for death in a fire that happened at United Hospital. Not only had these patients died in the reckless negligence of care, but United Hospital has taken little responsibility. If you are a person who proclaims to have an inch of moral principles this should bother you.

It is bizarre when you fully dive into the many accounts of the incident. Eight out of the eleven fire extinguishers were expired. The corona isolation ward where the victims were being treated had inflammable materials around -- that shows very poor maintenance from a very well-funded private hospital. 

A newspaper article recently elaborated on the discrepancy in treatment, in particular by the private hospitals. Among the many accounts from people stressing about the lack of moral empathy from hospitals to treat patients, one of them has been lingering in my thoughts. And, it trails back to the fire incident at United Hospital. 

Andre Dominic Paul, the son of Vernon Anthony Paul -- one of the victims of the fire had to painstakingly live through the nightmare of the system that exists within. Before being admitted to United Hospital, Paul’s father was denied treatment by several hospitals despite the proof that he was tested Covid-19 negative. He was finally admitted to the privately-funded hospital solely on the condition that the patient must stay in the Corona Isolation Unit -- that was under poor maintenance.

I ask myself why out of all the cases, this one particularly poked my nerves. Maybe it was because among other cases, this one had a detailed account of the abuse of power.

With our overwhelming population, the pandemic is a stressor. As worrisome as the lack of hospital beds and mismanagement is, hospitals have been reluctant to treat patients with Covid-19 symptoms. Daily consumption of the news and social media posts constantly remind us that someone has to fight their way to access doctors or other health care services.

Every phone call I have with my aunt leads to the conversation of hospitals turning away distant relatives for treatment or routine checks. It frightens me more and more with each phone call, worrying whether the callous health care services would soon be neglecting someone close to me. 

Soon, the fire that occurred at United Hospital will just become another undusted topic at the dinner table. 

The irony is real and it hurts.

Living within the quandary of our current state of health care services is not the only concern. The peak in prices of equipment like oxygen tanks, masks, gloves, and sanitizers is an absurd way for companies to profit. Soon, advertisements of these products will use tiny taglines stating as long as you have money, your safety is guaranteed. 

Luckily, I fall into the percentage of Bangladeshis who can at least afford the necessities to have their safety guaranteed. But, what happens to the majority, classified as the lower class or lower middle class, who depend on earnings from their day-to-day work. 

While it is the reality that quarantine is over and people are slowly resuming life before the pandemic, we often forget we still haven’t found a vaccine to the Covid-19 virus. And, even when we have access to vaccination, the powers that be would take advantage of our vulnerability.

In retrospect, the pandemic highlights the sordidness of our civilization that is often disguised with false empathy. I came across a Facebook post quoting the president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Rubana Huq. In translation, it states that the lower labour class is less affected by Covid-19 because they possess a certain strong quality and their sturdiness would prevent them from becoming ill. 

Having a sugar-coated explanation for the ruthless exploitation of the poor negates the condition of poverty and the reality of our country. A cunning tactic to take voices away from the voiceless, which has been going on since colonial times. 

Statements like this are problematic because they blanket the clear perception of ordinary citizens. Gradually, we shut our eyes to the injustices and inequality we fester within. But our consciousness is so embedded into this condition that we fail to see the reality. Or, on the contrary, we have given up. 

It highlights the deep-rooted moral dilemma we face in our everyday existence. We carry on with our lives as we see the malicious handling of patients, profiting from a crisis, or empty statements. Unfortunately, these are just a few examples. Helplessness has been so ingrained into our routine that it has eventually become the new normal.

Living with the fear, we actively trade calling out injustices with arbitrary reasons. Sometimes, it is our family, it is the responsibilities, or it is the fear of mortality. Or the fact that the manipulation by the ruling class has perfectly blended in with our social morals. Maybe in a year or two, the pandemic will be over, but this systemic abuse of power will still breathe among us. As long as we live under the cruelty of capitalism, justice will always be an abstract concept.

In this relevant time, I will end with a quote by the author James Baldwin: “We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we can’t possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.”

Afra Nuarey is a freelance journalist.

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