Sunday, 27 September 2020

A New Dimension to Health and Hygiene

By Aditya Wadhawan
Updated: September 9, 2020 10:57 am

Thanks to Corona pandemic, we now know it fully well that health infrastructure across the time zones is awfully poor. We sat on our laurels and began to believe that there wouldn’t be any more pandemic after the Spanish Flu of 1918 that killed tens of millions of people. It proved to be a terrible complacency that has already led to loss of about a million dead and tens of millions still infected. The count is increasing by geometrical progression.

On economic front, the world economy has already entered a period of long recession. Joblessness has reached at an all time high. Those placed at the bottom of economic stratum, are threatened with sheer survival. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has predicted that about 400 million workers employed in the informal sector in India would be pushed into deep clutches of poverty. Equally worrisome is the fact that vaccination of children for other serious diseases has been either stopped or disrupted due to Corona pandemic which can lead to serious consequences sooner than later.

Ironically, astronomical sums have been spent on nuclearisation and weaponisation. Even if a part of it had been spent on creating a robust health infrastructure, we could have handled this crisis in a far more effective way. A tiny virus has taught mankind that however powerful man may consider himself, yet we are very vulnerable. The virus has almost conquered the global community with its lethal contagion.

What can and should we do now?

Inculcate Personal and Community Hygiene Habits. We should make newly learnt hygiene norms like wearing masks, thoroughly washing home brought vegetables, fruits and even packets of the packed foods. Regular hand washing and sanitising should become our way of life and a habit. Until tap water reaches every home, the government should launch massive public awareness campaign for the use of filtered or boiled water for drinking as contaminated water is the source of many diseases.

It is a matter of immense concern and national shame that according to Pneumonia & Diarrhoea Report which was released in 2018, around 260,000 children in India die due to diarrhoea every year. Commonly, diarrhoea is a water contaminated disease. Only a regular intake of Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) would have drastically reduced the number of deaths. Use of filtered or boiled water and proper hand washing would have ruled out the ailment itself.

Another small but very effective public health measure that should be strictly followed is to impose hefty penalties on public spitting. Public spitting is a big source of air-borne diseases. Of course, the same cannot be done for open defecation and urination as the government is awfully short of providing basic infrastructure for the same.

Due to this pandemic, people are seriously taking all health guidelines. Therefore, this is the time when public campaigns for hygienic should be undertaken by the government so that healthier habits become a national character. Following a strict regimen of hygiene is the best prevention for the current pandemic and also for any such future catastrophe.

Vaccinate: Right now, we have to wait for a potential vaccine or any other curative break through against Corona. Vaccine trials are going on in many countries across the time zones and are in different stages of clinical trials. But medical experts and WHO are of the view that a vaccine wouldn’t be available for public use until 2021. India accounts for about 70 percent of total mass production of vaccine at a very affordable prize. It means for the poor and developing countries, India is their only hope for availability of vaccine. Astra Zeneca has already appointed Serum Institute of India for the mass production of its Covid vaccine after the final human trial.

It is a matter of immense pain that despite being the world leader in vaccine production, a vast number of children in India remain unvaccinated. Indian government has undertaken a massive Mission Indradhanush II to vaccinate children upto the age of two years and pregnant mothers against vaccine-preventable diseases. The diseases it includes are; TB, meningitis, measles, Hepatitis B, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and diphtheria.

Despite such a good vaccination programme, India accounts for about one-third of unimmunised children in the world. As per the National Library of Medicine, America’s largest medical library, less than 44 percent of Indians received full schedule of immunisation in 2011. Vaccine Alliance, a Geneva based organisation that works for the immunisation in poorer countries, predicts that 13.5 million people will either miss out on vaccination or their vaccination will get interrupted due to this pandemic. Vaccination should be made a priority national mission if we are to give better health and efficiency to our people.

Zoonotic diseases: Diseases that spread from animals or insects to humans are called zoonotic diseases. Diseases which are caused by microbes but are transmitted to humans through animals or insects are also called zoonotic diseases. A cursory estimate puts that roughly 60 percent of infectious diseases have zoonotic origin. Take for example malaria. Roughly 220 million people have been killed by malaria. Its vector is a mosquito. A country which is able to free itself of mosquitoes, shall not only be free of malaria but also of dengue, elephantiasis and all other diseases whose vector is a mosquito. Many countries by sustained efforts have set themselves free of malaria and many vector identified zoonotic diseases.

A lot many diseases like Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), H1N1 Swine flu, plague, Rift Valley Fever, Bovine TB, Avian influenza, Taeniasis are amongst the long list of zoonotic diseases.

Most zoonotic diseases are caused by the wet markets that sell dead animals in acutely unhygienic conditions. Wet markets are those markets which sell perishable food items like slaughtered animals, fruits and vegetables in unsterilised environment. In the absence of proper air-conditioning, either water is sprayed over these perishable items or they are kept on ice slabs which act as a conductive breeding ground for microscopic pathogens like bacteria, virus, fungi and eggs of worms. The spread of Corona is attributed to wet markets in Wuhan province of China. But wet markets are a common feature all around the globe.

Unlike traditional animals like goat, fish and chicken in India, meat eating habits are very diverse in other parts of the world. As many as 160 different animals are eaten around the world. This poses an increased challenge as far as zoonotic ailments are concerned.

The living conditions of to be slaughtered animals and the environment in which slaughtered animals are kept for selling are very vital factors to check the community transmission of zoonotic diseases. A blanket ban on the wet markets is not a feasible option. However, drastic changes in the ways the wet markets operate need to be evolved across the globe.

Propagation of vegan habits is also a very effective option. India is probably the only country where a large section of population is vegetarian. But what we eat is always a very personal choice. Eating habits cannot be imposed.

As per the latest UN report, it has been found that more diseases transmit from animals to humans. More diseases are likely to emerge if wildlife habitats are damaged by wildlife exploitation, unsustainable farming practices and climate change. This indicates that ecological balance is the need of the hour if the humanity is to be saved from any further transmission of zoonotic diseases.

The perils of high density: countries. High population and high population density countries are at a very high risk as far as the spread of a pandemic is concerned. In the beginning of March, India had only three Corona virus cases which were promptly cured too. And today, we have more than two million cases and the count is increasing exponentially by the day. Very high population density is the prominent reason for this. Dharavi is Asia’s largest slum. It is spread only over 2.4 square Kilometre and houses over 850,000 people. It led to a very intense spread of Corona cases in Dharavi as following social distancing norms wasn’t feasible at all.

Because of large population with high density and abysmal lack of medical infrastructure, 2019 Global Health Security Index which measures pandemic preparedness for countries based on their ability to handle the crisis, ranked India at a lowly 57th position. It shows that India is highly vulnerable to the present and any future pandemic.

Spend on Healthcare. For this, the government needs to invest huge sums which it hasn’t so far. This is about time that the government should as mandated by law, should spend 5 percent of its GDP for establishing health infrastructure so as to deal with any future pandemic. As of now, India spends a paltry 1.28 percent of its GDP on healthcare. Only because of this, we have awfully less hospitals, doctors, beds and ventilators. The nation is now paying for such a criminal neglect. Along with healthcare, the government should also mandate by law that 6 percent of GDP would be spent on education as well because a more educated society automatically becomes healthier and falls sick less.

This pandemic has caused large scale distress and agony. But can prove to be a blessing in disguise if we learn the right lessons from it to face any such eventuality in future.

 

By Aditya Wadhawan

 

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