Covid-19 lockdown exit: From pandemic to other ‘demics’
Here is a call to policy-makers and public alike to swiftly, strongly and persuasively address the more formidable non-Covid-demics of which infodemics, tuberculo-demics, accidemics and suicidemics are just few examplesUpdated: Jun 04, 2020 23:26 IST
Never before since the wars of 1965 and 1971 has all human activity been disrupted to the scale and duration as by the Covid-19 pandemic-driven lockdown in India. Between the beginning of February and May-end, the country experienced nearly 2 lakh diagnosed cases and over 5,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19.
The lockdown, however, was in response to the looming threat of the pandemic and its consequences in Europe and America. World-over, 65 lakh people have been infected and nearly 4 lakh of them have died. Most of the deaths have taken place in the US, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Seeing the unprecedented magnitude of this unforeseen calamity and sensing the under-preparedness of the health care system in the country, the government enforced a strict lockdown.
An author described the lockdown as a chemical experiment that exposed many hidden things. I disagree because we should also be looking at the positive side. The lockdown was a shining example of unity in the country; amply clear on the evening of March 22, when nearly the entire population came out in balconies in demonstration of solidarity and support. It was also a model appreciated by world leaders of how any country could respond swiftly to a crisis call. How well everyone rallied behind the corona warriors will also be remembered. Not in the least, the people thoroughly complied with lockdown directives and accepted the restrictions imposed with tolerance.
TACKLING BIGGER THREATS
Overall, the response to the Covid-19 threat cut across disciplines and from both policy-makers’ and public perspectives have been remarkable. That the numbers of cases are few in comparison to many other countries and fatalities still fewer and far between is another story – but it certainly brings to focus other diseases which pose similar and greater health challenges in India.
The recently published National Burden of Estimates survey commissioned by the Union ministry of health and family welfare estimated 97 lakh deaths each year in India. This represents a fifth of all deaths in the world. Of these 6.56 lakh deaths were attributed to brain stroke, 5.19 lakh to diarrhoea, 3.75 lakh to tuberculosis, 2.75 lakh to road traffic accidents and 1.99 lakh to suicide. These are only few examples. There are many more causes of death with immensely large numbers.
This means that besides the Covid-19 pandemic, there are other demics that India has to cope with and overcome. The numbers projected speak for themselves and are a call to policy-makers to provide appropriate responses to these unsung-demics. We can perhaps save many more lives is we focus our attention to these unrecognised-demics.
ROOT CAUSE IS ECONOMIC
As someone who is not in to policy-making nor a financial expert, I’m not sure of how this is to be done, but the root cause behind the scale of these demics is economic. At present, the government healthcare spending is 3.6% of the GDP, which is way below healthcare spending in other countries. For instance, the US spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare. This amounts to US$ 11,000/person each year in comparison to Rs 2,000/person each year in India.
Increasing healthcare spending has a number of collateral benefits, most of all economic. Most of the deaths due to the ‘demics’ alluded to above affect people in young age. The impact of premature deaths, also measured as years of life lost is far more than a number of late-life health conditions. After all, these are productive lives lost and the economic impact is far more worrying. This, thus is a call for policy-makers and public alike to surmount a meaningful and sustained response to these bigger health challenges akin to our response provided to Covid-19.
INFODEMIC AND HELPLESSNESS
Besides the Covid-19 pandemic, there is another demic nowadays – known as infodemic. The public is flooded with information through a variety of channels, including social media. The veracity of this information is a different matter and subject of a larger debate. The role of hydoxychloroquin in the treatment and prevention of Covid-19 is an example. But I would like to draw the attention of readers to the impact of the flooding of Covid-19 information in conventional media channels and social media alike. Undoubtedly, the public is now well-informed of the day-to-day indicators of the infection and also of recommendations vis-à-vis prevention and treatment.
The flooding of information, however, is like a pendulum – its impact invariably swings over to the other (wrong) side. The infodemic has led to the development of negative public attitudes towards Covid-19. Today, corona patients and those affected by the disease are being stigmatised and this has impacted them both in life and death. Helplessness and hindrances faced recently by the family of a Chennai-based neurosurgeon during his cremation is an appalling example. People are not coming to hospitals for care of their non-Covid related ailments for fear of getting exposed to Covid. These behaviours are unfounded as most hospitals are geared up to segregate Covid wards from other patient care zones.
Here is a call to policy-makers and public alike to swiftly, strongly and persuasively address the more formidable non-Covid-demics of which infodemics, tuberculo-demics, accidemics and suicidemics are just few examples. firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer is professor-head, department of neurology, Dayanand Medical College and Hospital, Ludhiana, and honorary associate professor at UCL Institute of Neurology, London