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Experts emphasized collaboration to sustain and scale the health and wellness initiatives for our workforce

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“We need to democratize the initiatives taken by the organizations and reduce barriers to accessibility of health services of our workforce”, Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director of International Labour Organization (ILO) Bangladesh said in a roundtable on 20 September 2023 at 3 p.m. in Dhaka. He also stated, “Many organizations have taken the initiatives for vaccination, health, hygiene, nutrition, ergonomics, eyecare, etc., which is well appreciated, and from ILO, we want to focus more on scalability and replicating these initiatives in other factories to ensure the wellness of our workforce.”
AYAT Education, in partnership with Integral Global and BGMEA, and supported by The John C. Martin (JCM) Foundation organized this interactive discussion on “Fostering the Health and Wellness of our Workforce” at The Westin Dhaka. AYAT Education organized this roundtable to develop a collaborative roadmap for future initiatives in the industrial sector to ensure improved health and wellness of our workforce that directly connects with industry productivity, growth, and sustainability.
Faruque Hassan, President of BGMEA and MD of Giant Group, also echoed the point made by ILO Country Director, saying that workers’ health and wellness is BGMEA’s top priority and we have seen major changes in the RMG sector recently because of different initiatives by BGMEA and RMG factories. He further added that as we navigate the challenges presented by communicable diseases, it is essential to equip our workforce with the necessary knowledge and strategies to safeguard themselves and improve productivity.
Nabil Ahmed, Founder and Director of Integral Global, presented a keynote presentation on the activities undertaken by AYAT Education and Integral Global in three textile and 6 RMG factories with almost 30,000 workers. Because of the health education and awareness campaigns, proper mask usage by facility employees improved by 51%, and proper hand washing practices by facility employees improved significantly.
Distinguished speakers from different industries shared their experiences on health and wellness initiatives that helped improve productivity, such as Spec-Techs, where employers conduct eye-screening campaigns, and are mandated to give them glasses and eye care support if they need them. More initiatives include focusing on financial well-being by providing financial support and access to loans and other discounts in hospitals.
To add more examples, Charles Whiteley, Ambassador of the European Union (EU) delegation to Bangladesh said it is important to establish daycare centers which have proved to improve productivity in Europe. He also suggested the importance of collecting data on workers’ health and wellness to inform evidence-based interventions.
From the discussion, questions arose on establishing a community-based approach with community health workers in increasing the health-seeking facilities. To this, Nusrat Aman, CEO of AYAT Education responded by saying that the low health-seeking behavior and general awareness among workers should be addressed through proper use of resources. AYAT Education is developing a Digital Toolkit for BGMEA partners and RMG workers which will have information about health and wellness and preventive care.
Sadhana Bhagwat, Team Lead, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health of WHO, said that more emphasis is needed in addressing not only physical health but also mental, emotional, and social well-being. Currently, there are 300 psychiatrists and 500 psychologists for 166 million people in Bangladesh, so this scarcity needs to be addressed through telemedicine and subsidized healthcare support of the workforce.
To this, Ramesh Singh, Country Director, CARE Bangladesh, further added that occupational disease diagnosis is also absent in Bangladesh and needs to be addressed in clinics and other public hospitals, through a holistic approach. He believes that a comprehensive approach to worker wellness will lead to more sustainable outcomes.
Dr. Lilian Lou, President and Program Director of the John C. Martin Foundation commented on the roundtable experience, expressing her enthusiasm for seeing major stakeholders under one roof. She also said that willpower is needed among stakeholders to make changes in the RMG factories and the community and supporting the workforce will improve productivity and the economy, creating a win-win situation for Bangladesh.
A constellation of reputed national and international experts from the RMG sector, foreign buyers’ community, public health sector, and academia joined the roundtable including Asif Ibrahim, Chairman of Chittagong Stock Exchange and Director of BGMEA, Tahsin Aman, Vice Chairman of Aman Group of Industries, Syed Ishtiaq Alam, Director of Ananta Group, Ziaur Rahman, Regional Country Manager of H&M, Syed Saad Hussain Gilani, Chief Technical Advisor of ILO, Naeem Imran Salim, Managing Director of Colors & Stitches Ltd., Maashed R. Abdullah, Director & CMO of Dressmen Group, and Dr. Nahreen Ahmed, Medical Director of MedGlobal and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at University of Pennsylvania.

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