Over a million positive cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have been reported worldwide (1,018,150 cases as on 3rd April 2020) with 53,251 untimely deaths. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first reported in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019. The United Nations health agency (World Health Organization – WHO) had declared COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020 (same day when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in India). Later WHO declared it a global pandemic. More worrying are warnings from epidemiologists who estimate that the trajectory of coronavirus could peak furthermore in several countries in the coming weeks/ months.
This is indisputable now that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global health system on its knees while forcing massive disruption in the global economy – even in richer nations with relatively better health security. How the ‘corporate world’ is impacted is just one side of the story in the spotlight. But on another much bigger side, the lives of the majority of our population, that strive to survive and make a daily living, is disrupted and at the threat to face a humanitarian disaster in making – if urgent measures are not taken.
Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the world’s top medical journal The Lancet, tweeted: “The countries that will be most resilient to COVID-19 will be those with the most universal, equitable, responsive, and well-financed health systems. Never have three simple words – health for all – meant so much.”
COVID-19 is a wake-up call to reverse inequality and effectively address the mountainous challenge to “leave no one behind” in sustainable development. If we fail to do this, we will also fail in health security for all. With World Health Day theme being “Health For All” it is high time we walk-the-talk on health security and deliver on these promises for everyone, be it rich or the poor, urban or rural, haves or have nots – and high time that we stand true to the spirit behind the chant of ‘where no one is left behind’ when it comes to sustainable development.
COVID-19 has bared an underlying pandemic of inequality
The global CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) recently called for heightened attention beyond the tangible impacts on our health and lives of COVID-19. COVID-19 has bared an underlying pandemic of inequality, which renders the majority and bottom rung of our society more vulnerable to health crises.
“We bear witness to the plight of our brothers and sisters who endure squalid conditions, in environments with poor access to nutrition, water, and sanitation, among other prerequisites for a healthy life. We are deeply concerned about the elderly, women and children, migrants and refugees, and persons with disabilities. It is they who bear the brunt of this crisis and should be prioritized as we face this pandemic” said CPDE statement.
“We call for concrete responses from our governments, the duty-bearers, to ensure that we will soldier through this together. More importantly, we urge them to rethink the way we run the world, to narrow the gap that led us here.”
“Today’s inequality was built over decades of a relentless pursuit of profit, supported by development policies not predicated on people’s needs. Its impact now stares us in the face and teaches us important lessons about progress and humanity: what ails one ails us all, what elevates one, must elevate us all. And when we pursue growth at the expense of others, we suffer as a human race” rightly states the statement from CPDE.
The statement issued by a group of scientists, academics and public health professionals including Magsaysay Awardee Dr. Sandeep Pandey who has taught in several Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, recognized that the lockdown has been justified by epidemiological considerations. But raises very valid concern: “The lockdown imposed by the government of India has allowed those who have the means to survive for 21 days and beyond, to stay at home to protect their health. But, for more than 90% of the workforce, which is in the unorganized sector or informally employed in the organized sector, and especially for casual laborers who earn on a daily basis, the lockdown is both an immediate health risk and an economic catastrophe.”
Lockdown by itself is not a cure
“A lockdown of society, by itself, is not a cure for the COVID-19 epidemic and it is a stratagem for winning some time for the healthcare system. Epidemiological models consistently suggest that, in the absence of other factors, the epidemic could bounce back once the lockdown is lifted. If this were to happen at the end of India’s lockdown, the epidemic would hit a society already under severe economic distress, with potentially devastating consequences. Therefore, a post-lockdown plan is necessary that will ensure that the rate of new infections is kept low in a sustainable manner when the lockdown ends. While social distancing and better hygiene can help, these measures are insufficient by themselves. We are deeply concerned that the government of India has not released a roadmap, detailing how it plans to deal with the epidemic, once the lockdown is eased. We believe that such a plan should have been put in place before the lockdown was announced, and we urge the government to do so as soon as possible. Such a move would also enhance the confidence of people in the government’s long-term strategy.”
More testing is necessary
“The lockdown may succeed in temporarily suppressing the epidemic, at a great social cost, but we are concerned that the government is not using this precious interval of time to actually identify as many cases of COVID-19 as possible. In particular, the currently restricted testing-policy creates the risk that a large number of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases – which constitute the majority of infections – will remain undetected even at the end of the lockdown period. These cases could easily serve as the nucleus for the epidemic to bounce back” reads this statement from scientists, academics and public health professionals.
They urged the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Government of India to take immediate steps to expand India’s testing regimen. As of now, a little over 66,000 tests have been done in the country of 1.3 billion till now. Germany, USA, UK and other nations hard-hit by COVID-19 pandemic are doing more tests daily than India for example. We perhaps need to scale up testing and care for those infected and of course, do all that’s possible to cut the chain of transmission, while boosting social security for those most in need.
Bobby Ramakant is a World Health Organization (WHO) Director General’s WNTD Awardee and part of CNS (Citizen News Service) and Asha Parivar. Follow him on Twitter @bobbyramakant or visit www.citizen-news.org