0641 GMT September 23, 2021
In the first study of its kind, Australian and Bangladeshi researchers documented the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures on the wellbeing of women and their families in rural Bangladesh, medicalxpress.com reported.
The study found that low socioeconomic families experienced a range of economic and mental health challenges during the two-month stay-at-home order, and women reported an increase in intimate partner violence.
The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, suggests in the event of future public health lockdowns, the wellbeing of families — and particularly women — needs be actively addressed.
Devastating impacts of lockdown
Like many countries around the world, Bangladesh used stay-at-home (or lockdown) orders to limit the spread of COVID-19 in April and May 2020. Using an existing research network in Bangladesh, a collaborative team led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research in Bangladesh was able to measure the impact of the lockdown on financial stability, food security, mental health and domestic violence in 2,424 families in a rural Bangladesh community.
The impact of the lockdown on households was worrying, said Associate Professor Sant-Rayn Pasricha from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia.
"While the lockdown was an essential public health measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we were concerned about the problems it could pose for the families in our study," Pasricha said.
"Comparing how families were faring before and during lockdown, we observed substantial financial and mental health pressures experienced during lockdown."
The study revealed 96 percent of families experienced a reduction in employment and 91 percent considered themselves to be financially unstable.
"During the lockdown, almost half (47 percent) of families saw their earnings drop below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day," Pasricha said.
"Seventy percent experienced food insecurity, with one in six families running out of food, going hungry or missing meals."
The lockdown also had mental health impacts, with women showing an increase in depression symptoms, and 68 percent of participants reporting their anxiety level had increased..
Families need more support
Pasricha said the study indicated the lockdown had unintended yet devastating outcomes for the families.
"Stay-at-home orders lasting more than two months, in a rural South Asian setting, have inflicted an enormous economic and psychosocial burden on women and their families," he said.
He added that the results reflected similar studies that indicated the flow-on effect of stay-at-home orders to food security and nutrition would be experienced globally.
"The marked increase in severe food insecurity in our study population shows the impact of economic pressure on food access and supports modelling to suggest the pandemic could have a catastrophic effect on food security and consequently on nutrition worldwide.
"Our study, which is the first of its kind, highlights the need for wide-reaching welfare and other forms of financial support for families impacted by lockdown measures, not only for those on low incomes. Crucially, social support is needed to protect women's safety and it is essential that domestic violence intervention services remain accessible during lockdown.
Bangladeshi Principal Investigator, Dr. Jena Hamadani, from International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research said she hoped the research would help inform governments about the need for welfare support for people in rural communities in low- and middle-income countries during lockdowns.
"We hope our findings will be valuable for public health officials, and will inform and improve future public health measures, should lockdowns continue," Hamadani said.