Bangladesh: Faith in the fight against COVID-19

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with religious leaders in Bangladesh to provide the population with health information to keep themselves, their family, and their communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Religious leaders and faith-based organizations are playing a crucial role in supporting the government's strategy in tackling the spread of COVID-19. Communities look to their religion in times of difficulty and religious leaders can assist the government and health workers by providing advice and guidance to keep safe. This is all the more important now that winter season is approaching and fears of a second wave are growing.

The ICRC is working together with religious leaders on a campaign to encourage people living in areas with a high rate of COVID-19 to keep wearing masks and to follow advice from the health authorities. The ICRC has targeted religious sites including mosques, temples, and pagodas as well as government hospitals in eight districts where the risk of COVID-19 is high.

As part of the campaign, the ICRC organized a series of dissemination sessions beginning 6 December with the Islamic Foundation in Cox's Bazar. Fifteen imams in charge of mosques for six sub-districts attended the discussion. In total, the attendees are responsible for more than 4,500 mosques.

Dissemination session with 15 Imams in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. / ICRC

The chief guest in the session, President of the Cox's Bazar Imam Association Kazi Moulana Md Shirajul Islam, said that people in his community think the pandemic is already over, while in reality, COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh continue to rise. Faith-based organizations can play a key role in providing correct and relevant information to the public and encouraging them to change their behaviour, he explained.

The following day another session was organized with Buddhist monks in Ramu Buddha Bihar also in Cox's Bazar. Thirty-one monks from different sub-districts discussed how they could assist in ensuring their communities continue to wear masks and take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Secretary of the Buddhist International Federation Bhante Sunanda Priya said that monks have the trust and respect of the community and it is, therefore, a responsibility to deliver proper information on how to fend off COVID-19.

Session with 31 Buddhist monks from Teknaf, Ukhiya and Ramu, Bangladesh. / ICRC

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICRC has been working with religious leaders to reach all sections of the community with messages on key topics including disease prevention and management of the dead. Religious leaders are often the primary source of reliable information for communities, particularly in rural areas.