13 Apr Learning from our mistakes
The events developing with the outbreak of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on every one of us. Together we can beat this virus but remember none of us will come out unscathed. Every economic, financial & political pundit who brushed off early warnings of Health Care Officials & Scientists never saw the tsunami towering behind them until it swept the entire world. Destroying lives and disrupting systems we built for our industrial species.
Everything was working just fine until it wasn’t.
Just over two months before the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, one of my colleagues, who is from a science background explained a hypothetical scenario of an epidemic, how it can spread and what kind of impact it can have on each one of us. Following months after the outbreak as the situation was unfolding, I being a simpleton was awestruck by her ability to predict an event that had no precedence and a magnitude, like of which most of us couldn’t have even fathomed.
But she wasn’t the only one. For decades now the scientist has been advising Govt, private-organizations and public alike, about the risks of a pandemic and why it may be around the corner. There have been a plethora of research papers written on pandemic risk, guidelines for prevention & preparedness. But we all have failed to heed their warning or to implement the guidelines effectively.
Less than 15% of businesses around the globe who made their business recession-proof never thought to ask “Are we pandemic proof?” Governments never invested in health care & safety measures to the extent required to mitigate or control any outbreak. Because (as Nasser Ta lib would say) this was a “Black Swan”. It can never happen until it does.
We are not out of the forest yet, first & foremost we need to work together to get out of the current crisis.
By Shamik Trehan
Being proactive rather than reactive
When the COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic, India reacted by going into lockdown mode.”Jaan hai to Jahaan hai” (Hindi version of “Health before wealth”) said PM Modi while describing the importance of social distancing to stop the virus at its track. While it is still too soon to say to what extent this lockdown can help with the pandemic control, but one thing is for certain. At the time of writing this article, the number of infected cases is lower than the expected numbers without lockdown measures.
But the keyword here is “reacted”. With viruses increasing both its frequency and ferocity, we cannot afford to be reactive rather we need to be proactive.
We need to start by addressing inadequate sanitation, which leads to 432,000 deaths annually from diarrhea. India was lucky to dodge the Ebola crisis. Given its hygiene conditions, Ebola could have wreaked havoc in both rural India & urban slums.
Developing capabilities to identify the virus for immediate test kit development, production & deployment for mass testing has proven key components for the government to identify, track and control the vectors. While India had been applauded for all the precautions, it has taken towards its mitigation efforts, it has also drawn criticism for its lack of capacity for mass testing which if we look at nations who contained the spread, is a crucial factor.
Meat market needs to be regulated as well; the overuse of antibiotics by India, poultry producers has given rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Similarly, other potential causes of an outbreak need to be identified & addressed.
Investing in Health care
A significant increase in Healthcare spending has to be made a priority. While Health per capita has doubled, the percentage of GDP has dropped when compared to 4% in 2000 to 3.2%. Even if we don’t compare ourselves to developed nations whose spend ranges from 10% to 16% of their GDP, India still stands below other BRIC nations: Brazil spends the most (9.2%), followed by South Africa (8.1%), Russia (5.3%), China (5%).
A designed stimulus needs to be funneled into public health to provide atleast 8.5 hospital beds and 8 physicians per 10,000 people. That would bring India up to standards of Japan & South Korea.
One of the major reasons for lack of focus on health care systems is the economic expansion and the race to be listed among developed nations. Hence, 90% of GDP budget is allocated to revenue-generating activities. But according to the IMF, India can boost its human capital’s productivity by investing in education and healthcare. So, we can expand our economy without comprising our health. Talk about having the best of both worlds.
Factoring in Socioeconomic impact into the response plan
Shortly after the lockdown was announced the state & central government along with many NGOs worked together providing relief to socioeconomically vulnerable group by announcing food provisions & other essentials. However, the aid did not come soon enough to stop the mass exodus of migrant workers to their home towns/villages across the country from tier I & tier-II cities. The migration impeded the efforts to curb the spread and put the entire nation at risk. According to research, a dollar spent as an immediate response to disaster mitigation is worth 6 dollars later.
We need to develop a comprehensive plan to support the vulnerable through the troublesome situation while the country battles the deadly diseases is vital to emerging from the pandemic crises. Any misstep during this process may lead to a disastrous outcome.
Preparing people for pandemic response
We will overcome this! The outbreak will subside, the economy will recover and eventually, we will move on. And that’s precisely the problem. A forgotten tragedy is bound to repeat.
In the absence of pharmaceutical intervention, every outbreak can be controlled through social distance, good hygiene & protective gear like universal use of the mask. Now thanks to COVID-19 taking the centre stage, every soul across the globe is aware of these measures, but what happens when we are out of this crisis and get complacent?
We need stay vigilant & inculcate the same vigilance in the generations to come. One way is by marking a day as World pandemic day. Where every nation runs a drill for its people & leaders alike to raise awareness about these measures. And when the time comes, and it will come. Everyone will be battle-ready.
This pandemic has insinuated the need to address the age of misinformation, which has affected people’s moral and crippled their ability to deal with the situation. From simple misinformation about homemade remedies to ludicrous conspiracy theories like 5G network causing the spread, all leading to a catastrophic outcome. Negligence to extreme paranoia, enough to push people to hoard resources or burn down cell phone towers. These actions undermine the efforts to manage the pandemic by Govt and Health Care professionals all around the world. But how to deal with the lethal fake news without infringing upon people’s right to information.
Instead of controlling what gets shared and what doesn’t, we need to educate people to think critically. With the ease of access to information, one doesn’t have to be Hercule Poirot to fact-check the news. Instead of telling people what to believe and what not to, we need to enable to discover the truth by themselves and yes, it is as easy as it sounds. All it takes a minor effort (when I say ‘minor’ it is ‘minuscule’) and a little responsibility to see through the façade.
Read: “Putting an end to the spread of misinformation on social media” by Syed Maaz
These are the broad and but not exhaustive actions that can be taken to make our nation prepared the next pandemic that will arrive at our shores.
An unconventional Communications Professional/Visual Storyteller/fusion of tech, creativity & analytics /Gamer