We can either be cynical, which will happen if we are ignorant or overreact emotionally to the harrowing pictures that are doing the global rounds. Or we can be objective by analyzing the actual metrics
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
It is in the interest of all of us that the Covid pandemic be brought under control as soon as possible. As we have been reminded repeatedly, no one is safe until everybody is safe – in this globalised world of 24/7 travel and trade exchanges amongst all countries, this effectively means that every single country from the smallest to the largest must be safe.
“As of a few days ago, India had 134 deaths/million population, whereas almost all the western countries including USA have reported more than 1,500/m, the lowest being Switzerland with 1212/m. In terms of deaths per million, India is 120th. The USA, with double the number of reported cases as compared with India (about 32 million), has 3 times more deaths. These figures tally with those of the John Hopkins Covid Resource Centre, considered to be the most reliable source of Covid stats…”
Commonsense will tell us that the larger a country and its population, the bigger and more complex the problems it will face in achieving a desired level of safety – because it would have had to cope with larger numbers of patients at the outset of Covid last year, as well as during subsequent surges and waves. This is the pattern that has been present in all countries, from the most to the least developed.
And as we saw in Bergamo, Italy where the European first wave started last year, and similarly in New York at that time with the daily briefings of Governor Andrew Cuomo, their health systems were overwhelmed. Bodies were kept in refrigerator containers outside hospitals, and there were mass graves (in Brazil too) for lack of space in the normal cemeteries. Doctors and other health staff died of Covid or of suicide, away from family, and did not have the dignity of a proper burial. Politicians were criticised for their initial skepticism and laggardly response. As the pandemic spread with waves and surges followed by rolling lockdowns, Covid fatigue set in. Along with politicians, it was the turn of the public to get the flak for failing to rigorously implement the sanitary measures recommended – and this has not changed.
This is the situation in which India finds itself today, and because of its population of nearly 1.4 billion or nearly one fifth of humanity, it is quite natural that the world’s attention should be currently focused there. That is fine if it is done in the spirit that we are all in it together and that it will be in everybody’s interest that India gets over this crisis as fast as it can.
We can either be cynical, which will happen if we are ignorant or overreact emotionally to the harrowing pictures that are doing the global rounds. Or we can be objective by analyzing the actual metrics — facts and figures – comparatively, which is what responsible reporters and health professionals do.
In a forwarded post, Khalid Umar, a Pakistani who lives in London, gives his appreciation of ‘Indian Media and reporting’:
‘Do you think that the despair and gloom would have been less in the other countries? Obviously no. But no one has seen such gory images from those countries: of dying patients, wailing attendants, aerial drone shots of crematoriums, shouting news anchors, corpses lined up for burial, honking ambulances, point scoring politicians, sensational news headlines, as if hell has broken lose.
‘Nowhere in the world would press reporters be reporting directly live from the Covid wards! Nowhere else would the attendants be attending to their loved ones and being interviewed too. NOBODY in the world has seen the kind of Covid reporting being done in India. That is something which is the worst kind of yellow journalism and must be legally stopped.’
However, he does not stop there, but gives the figures to show that India is much better off than the rest of the world. As of a few days ago, India had 134 deaths/million population, whereas almost all the western countries including USA have reported more than 1,500/m, the lowest being Switzerland with 1212/m.
In terms of deaths per million, India is 120th. The USA, with double the number of reported cases as compared with India (about 32 million), has 3 times more deaths. These figures tally with those of the John Hopkins Covid Resource Centre, considered to be the most reliable source of Covid stats.
And he reiterates that ‘it is a pandemic and the odds are so heavy against poorer nations.’ Thus, ‘Germany & Japan have 13 beds/1,000 people, France 6, Switzerland 4.6, China 4.3, UK 2.5, Canada 2.5, whereas in India it is 0.5!’ That is, for every 2000 people India has 1 bed!
The way to go about understanding and handling this situation in India is therefore to first, avoid sensationalist lay reports (for a more comprehensive overview vide article by Abhishek Banerjee in OpIndia.com about ‘tragedy porn’) and instead look at the proper metrics and second, listen to and implement the advice of the frontliner authoritative voices in the country. They include the Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Prof Randeep Guleria, Chairman of Medanta Dr Naresh Trehan, Professor and Head of Department of Medicine AIIMS Dr Navneet Wig and Director General Health Services Dr Sunil Kumar.
In an interview last Sunday, they reiterated that Covid-19 is a mild disease and there is no need to panic, with 85 to 90 per cent of people witnessing normal symptoms like fever, cold, body ache, and cough, not needing Remdesivir or other large numbers of medicines. They will get well within 7-10 days, and don’t need to keep Remdesivir or oxygen in their houses, creating panic and an artificial shortage. 10-15% of people may witness severe infection and may need extra medicines like Remdesivir, oxygen or plasma. Less than 5% than of patients need a ventilator.
On the issue of oxygen supply, in a post Hanuman Mal Bengani ex-CEO of Linde India, one of the largest oxygen producers in India points out: ‘There is absolutely no shortage of oxygen product in India. You will be surprised to know that less than 1% of oxygen production capacity is used for medical purposes. Even in corona times it may go up to three times or even 5%.’
According to him, the crisis is due to 1) a shortage of distribution assets i.e. road tankers, storage tanks and cylinders, which are expensive, 2) logistics management – because most of plants are located in select geographies, distribution assets have to travel 200-1000 kms to deliver to customers, which even with good roads takes around 7-10 days to make a round trip, and a cylinder also takes that much turnaround, and 3) desire of gas companies to focus on what maximises their profits.
‘Last but not least,’ he adds, ‘this wave came so quick it took our government administration with pants down. Had they thought of this impending danger and prepared, a major crisis could have been avoided. But that’s easier said than done knowing our democratic set up.’ He follows up with some suggestions to Government.
Let the last words go to Khalid Umar again:
‘It is also not about medical facilities only. It is about the general attitude towards protection and safety. It is also about the necessity to go out for work. Not everyone has the Work From Home facility.
‘But in India, the worst is the political lot. Here in the UK, there are no partisan politicians who would do point scoring during a national emergency. Had the opposition and the press been so damn bad in the UK a year ago, Boris Johnson would have long been history. But no, everyone rallied behind their PM for the national cause.
‘With all these heavy odds, whatever India has done to combat the pandemic is commendable. There has been a wave of philanthropic nationalism. People have come forward to help one another. India has the capacity to combat this pandemic. All that India needs is patriotism, humanism and rallying around your national leadership.’
Definitely a much better prescription than the ambient cynicism and negativism. Perhaps, after all, India does really need a stronger and not a weaker centralized government.
* Published in print edition on 27 April 2021
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