( March 31, 2020 )
Cases of coronavirus have been rising in India steadily and there is no doubt that the trajectory of infections is on an upward curve. Prime Minister’s recent address to the country, made it clear that this is not to be taken lightly, and as individuals, we have to take serious actions and hence put the country in lockdown. In his earlier address, he mentioned about taking care of yourself and also others and reiterated the need for social distancing. These steps are necessary since COVID-19 has been termed as a controllable pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Government is echoing, again and again, the measures one needs to take to avoid spreading the disease. Though there are straight forward and simple measures, the path to take the measures is not the same for all.
A number of international agencies have praised the Indian Government for controlling the pandemic and taking correct preventive measures at the appropriate time, however, issues on the number of tests being done are still debatable. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has clearly indicated that we are bound towards community transmission, and so far the disease is in primarily those individuals with travel history to affected countries or via close contact with positive cases. To single out such individuals, who have had a travel history, is fairly easy given the amount of documentation involved, but to know exactly if you interacted with an infected COVID-19 person, is a little challenging.
This becomes even more puzzling for service staff, like housemaids, drivers, and peons who sometimes do not even know the person they are interacting with. They go about doing their day to day job and hardly note that the people they are meeting might have a travel history or the virus itself. For them to be interacting with a person with symptoms or someone not taking appropriate precautions, is probably much higher than we can anticipate.
Moreover, with the social media frenzy and countless opinions, a lot of myths around taking precautions are also circulating amongst this group. Message forwards saying to light camphor or holding your breath for 10 seconds to check if you have coronavirus, are major hindrances in implementing proper self-care. With the lockdown in place, false information can be detrimental to one’s own health.
It is of utmost importance that as model citizens, we join hands and help our staff, colleagues or even friends bust myths around this pandemic. One on one talks outlining the preventive measures, need to be communicated to everyone around us on an immediate basis. This is can not only help us fight the situation but also help in making sure that if and when the virus reaches stage 3 of transmission, there is less chaos.
Another important aspect is to understand the background and family culture of our lesser privileged peers. We understand that most of them live in rural or urban slums, and have limited access to amenities of the urban society. If this virus were to spread in communities in India, with a population of over 132 crores, it would be a serious challenge to tackle the situation without a vaccine.
Looking at the population spread, as of 2018, India had 66% of its population living in rural areas, making it one of the few countries where the majority of its population still lives in the hinterland. The challenge that persists is that the population living in this area does not have widespread access to healthcare services or in some cases even the basic infrastructure.
Moreover, India has less than one bed for 1,000 people according to OECD. This means that either we get a vaccine, which according to multiple sources is still in progress or limit the spread among our population, specifically our rural population. With our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi emphasising the need to take care of others, organisations, NGOs and civil society can work towards raising awareness and help in tackling this crisis.
The need of the hour calls for all stakeholders to raise as much awareness as they can. Wherever businesses have their operations in rural areas, whether it is through partners, subsidiaries or even CSR, they need to implement large scale community awareness programmes. NGOs also working in these areas need to join hands to make sure that even the remotest of the remote parts of the country are reached, and that people are educated on the preventive measures they can take.
Another challenge that we foresee and can be tackled through this approach, is the need to educate masses on the corrective measures. Knowing if one has symptoms what he/she needs to do in that case is crucial. Recent news on people consuming liquids and unauthorised medicines, claiming to cure symptoms against coronavirus are causing more damage to the situation.
Moreover, such awareness can reduce panic buying, help people understand what can be done, and what are the elements in their hands that they can be tackled. With the recent ICMR report Prudent public health intervention strategies to control the coronavirus disease 2019 transmission in India: A mathematical model-based approach, suggesting that community transmission can be visible anywhere from three weeks to a few months, more and more questions are being raised on the country’s capacity to do mass level testing, and also the infrastructure in place.
We can see that there is a gap, and a lot needs to be done, but given the circumstances and the speed at which this pandemic is spreading our best bet is to enforce a model behaviour bringing in civic driven change. Awareness, education, and prevention are our best call to action at the moment, and the same needs to be communicated to all parts of our society. A lot of corporates have already noted this recommendation and have implemented awareness sessions and diverted CSR contributions, but a lot more needs to be done in a short span of time to ensure that no one is left behind.
While these measures can help in tackling coronavirus at the moment, going forward such an understanding can also reduce the chances of other communicable diseases. Overall it is an effort that each and every one of us has to make, to ensure that as a community, as a country we tackle this pandemic and come out of it in the best way possible.