From Bangladesh to Belarus – Advice from Dr Hasan

Dr Hasan Imrul in Minsk, Belarus. Photo: IOM Belarus

“Panic makes our immune systems weak. The key thing is to follow recommendations and stay positive.”

Wise words from Dr Hasan Imrul, who came from Bangladesh to what was then the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (now Belarus) 29 years ago to study at medical university. Now he’s on the frontline of the country’s COVID-19 response.  

“This month I had about 400 patients that approached me with symptoms of the flu or a common cold. Obviously, all of them were concerned that they might have caught COVID-19”, he says. “Yet, I forwarded only one patient for further testing for COVID-19, which later showed negative results”.

Most of his professional life, Dr Hasan worked in the public healthcare system, but six months ago, he joined a private hospital.

 “I think we are in a important position now as private clinics are currently helping public ones to keep up with a tough workload: people get extremely worried when they show the first symptoms of regular cold or flu—and make immediate arrangements to see physicians in order to check whether they have been infected with the coronavirus or not”.

Dr Hasan with his children Samina and Samir. Photo: IOM Belarus

On the issue of information overload and fake news, Hasan says “I am sure doctors do a good job to temper down panic in the society. As for myself, I talk to my patients and explain them what this new coronavirus is, what the symptoms are, how to behave and where to get credible information and not to get into trap of fake  or misinformation, which is now in large amount available on the Internet”.

Even though infection rates in Belarus are much less than elsewhere, Hasan says that social isolation is vital of anyone who might suspect that have been in contact with infected persons: “COVID-19 is difficult to diagnose based on symptoms—not even mentioning that in many cases it tends to be asymptomatic. If it was easy to detect, we wouldn’t have to spend millions on tests. It doesn’t make sense to test everyone – no guarantee that a tested person with negative results won’t get infected later. It would be great if we could separate the tested in special baskets like in a game. But in real life it’s not possible, life continues. That’s why self-isolation is so important. This is what I try to convince my patients of as well.”

Working and living in Belarus, Hasan doesn’t forget his roots and follows the COVID-19 situation developments in Bangladesh as well:

“Of course, I am worried about the situation in Bangladesh. The country is smaller than Belarus in terms of territory, but it is much more densely populated – 170 million people live there. It makes it very difficult to follow the simplest recommendation: Keep your distance! The spread of the virus there is just a matter of time, I am afraid”.

As our conversation continues, we switch from the hot topic of COVID-19 to Hasan’s experience as migrant working in the medical field.

“I am not the only doctor with a migration background working in Belarus: there are specialists from Ecuador, Lebanon, India, and other countries”, he says.

“I have to say that I have never had any problems with my patients due to my foreign looks. I establish a good contact with my patients very easily. I believe that being a doctor is not only to establish diagnosis and prescribe medicines; but also to make a person feel comfortable, find a common language and trust, and, finally, understand their feelings. In fact, some patients come from other cities to see me in Minsk. And I must say that I am very thankful for this trust.”

Dr Hasan is truly at home in Belarus these days, but he’s definitely an advocate for migrants and how they can contribute to their host societies. 

“Migrants should be given an opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise, they should be able to seize an opportunity to work in a country. Diversity makes a society stronger and changes attitudes towards migrants. I can judge from my own experience,” he smiles.