When the coronavirus pandemic landed on Bangladeshâ€™s soil, everyone turned to the countryâ€™s microbiologists or virologists. They are the persons who collect samples for testing, and have been playing a significant role in the fight against COVID-19.
It is an established fact that during such epidemics, the affected country looks towards the microbiologists, who are otherwise looked down upon by national policymakers.
One such professional is Dr. Selina Akhter, an associate professor of the Microbiology Department at Jessore University of Science and Technology (JUST). She talked about her role as a microbiologist and the challenges she is facing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simultaneously a mother, teacher and researcher, Selina has been working in the Genome Center of the University after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country hard. When the samples of the Coronavirus have started coming from Jessore and other neighbourhood cities, Selina had to refrain herself visiting her family. As she has been working as the frontline COVID-19 fighter, her kids are being deprived of the motherly love. It always leaves her frustrated but at the same time, the duty and fight against the deadly virus have kept her motivated.
â€œFrom the very early situation of COVID-19 pandemic, we didnâ€™t expect the coronavirus to spread so abruptly. The previous data on SARS and MARS were telling us how to predict pandemic. When, we started allowing our citizens from different countries to return home, improper quarantine management and lack of preparedness were visible,â€ she said.
Selina continued â€œWe, microbiologists knew that the situation will be crucial day by day. Being a virologist, our Vice Chancellor and faculties of Microbiology department in JUST were asking for permission to work in the situation. We knew that the diagnosis and management of a virus were not that easy avoiding self exposure. Microbiologists are the only professionals who know the virus, who work with the virus and know the biosafety procedures to maintain. On the very first day, when we got the permission to work, I could not resist the temptation of working at the frontline. If I let myself stay at home in this crucial time, I should quit microbiology.â€
She, however, is fortunate enough to have her mother and sister beside her as those two ladies are taking care of her kids.
â€œAs a microbiologist, we are handling microbes (viruses, bacteria) as a daily routine and we know the biosafety protocol to keep ourselves away from exposure. But while working with highly contagious viruses, like SARS CoV 2, we should have some extra precautions. This is the reason why we are maintaining distances from family members also. During my work and quarantine period, I stayed at a different place. I live with my parents and they are mainly taking care of my two kids. Due to lockdown, my sister (a school teacher) is taking care of them too. I am fortunate that my kids are so comfortable with them,â€ she informed.
Staying away from the family and the kids might be tougher to gauge but she feels taking risk is worth as she has been doing it for the betterment of the humanity.
â€œWhen I wear my PPE and enter the lab, I just pray to the Almighty Allah so that HE grants all my efforts and works and risks I am taking as good deeds,â€ she remarked.
â€œMy family was staying on the campus residence while I worked in the COVID lab. During lunch or dinner, I walked to the COVID-19 camp (teachersâ€™ club has been converted to the residence of COVID team) which was far from the residence but visible. My kids waited for hours at the window on the 6th floor of the residence and waved at me. There was no time schedule for lunch and dinner and I didnâ€™t bring mobile in the lab, so they sometimes waited for hours to see me. It is a tough time for every mother, who can see their kids waving their hands,â€ she said.
Selina, however, said they need fund for the research of the genomic analysis of the COVID-19 as they want to see the consequences of COVID-19 infection in human body in depth.
â€œTo be honest, I didnâ€™t have any other goal to achieve other than to serve the people with my expertise. But, while working in the lab, we found out that there were so many works to do in this situation. We along with our team are now planning to do research. We have already started applying for grants to fund the research. We have focused on the genomic analysis of the virus and want to see the consequences of COVID-19 infection in human body. Our team has already submitted some articles on viral genome analysis and is working on regional epidemiology. We have also a plan to analyze plasma protein and the sero conversion in critical patients,â€ the microbiologist said.
Experts in this specific field say many clinical microbiologists have dumped their innovation and their innovative ideas. But these need to be nurtured with good funding from the government as well as from private players, they add.