Worse Than Epidemics

There are also other ills that cause worse damage to societies, because they are endemic. One has come much to the fore to complicate matters in this ongoing Covid pandemic is the infodemic

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

The Covid-19 pandemic is polarizing the world’s attention so overwhelmingly that we may be forgiven to overlook the other maladies that are even worse in many respects. It is true that this is a pandemic as has never been seen before, in terms of its extreme and acute health, social and economic impacts. The latter two result from the sanitary measures that have had to be imposed and that have changed the nature of work, what with the restriction of people-to-people contact being a major requirement to prevent spread. Epidemics and pandemics create a more marked impression because they are rapid killers that throw the health and medical services out of gear.


“As regards the endemic social evils, some of them have assumed the proportion of epidemics. Thus, in the US, the President and his administration are soon to take action to combat what has been called ‘the gun violence public health epidemic.’ Nearly 30,000 people every year fall victim to guns… In the US too, in addition to what President Obama, no less, had referred to as ‘instutionalised racism, against the Blacks in particular, there are now attacks on Asians. Of late, Chinese-origin people have been particularly targeted, but Indians too have been attacked…” Photo – texastribune.org


But it is also a fact that epidemics and pandemics are relatively short-lived, and that because they are infectious diseases, they are amenable to control by vaccines which modern science and technology can develop much more rapidly than before – as happened with the AH1N1 pandemic, and is also true for the current one. Besides, vaccine rollout can also be speeded up, though there are hiccups.

But there are also other ills that cause worse damage to societies, because they are endemic rather than episodic like epidemics and pandemics. Endemic means natural to, native to, confined to, or widespread within a place or population of people. This term can apply to both medical and social conditions, and since they are present all the time, they have the potential to cause immense damage across wide swathes of the population of a country.

This is what the silent killer diseases grouped under the umbrella term ‘Non-communicable diseases’ (NCDs) are doing. Cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes are responsible for the deaths of millions across the world every year. To this we must add the communicable ones like malaria, TB, HIV-AIDS and others that are equally devastating.

When we turn to the social problems that are present, we find that their impacts are no less calamitous.

One has come much to the fore to complicate matters in this ongoing Covid pandemic. It is the infodemic, defined as ‘an overabundance of information — some accurate and some not — that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.’ It is both a tsunami of incorrect information and of false rumors, stigma, and conspiracy theories – what could be described as ‘infauxdemic’. When present during public health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019, it can be ‘linked to violence, mistrust, social disturbances, and targeted attacks on healthcare providers.’ Similarly, ‘during the SARS outbreak in China in 2002-2003, fear and anxiety about contracting the disease caused social stigma against Asian people. Stigmatized persons may delay seeking medical care, potentially remaining undetected, but contributing to the expansion of the epidemic via community transmission.’

As it is, ‘public health emergencies are stressful times for people and communities’. Over and above managing them, there is now the added burden of having to dispel the ‘infauxdemic’. So much so that it has now to be considered as an emerging threat ‘to pandemic preparedness and control, and, therefore…’ needing ‘systematic monitoring and control measures.’

As regards the endemic social evils, some of them have assumed the proportion of epidemics. Thus, in the US, the President and his administration are soon to take action to combat what has been called ‘the gun violence public health epidemic.’ Nearly 30,000 people every year fall victim to guns, either by the police or in incidents of mass shooting that are almost commonplace out there.

In the US too, in addition to what President Obama, no less, had referred to as ‘instutionalised racism, against the Blacks in particular, there are now attacks on Asians. Of late, Chinese-origin people have been particularly targeted, but Indians too have been attacked. With the rise and spread of ‘white supremacy’, it is to be expected that such racism may spread, unless control measures and social attitudes help in curbing it.

Each country has its brand of endemic malfunction, other types cut across the world. In the UK, ‘grooming gangs’ that have trapped young white and Sikh girls by the hundreds into sexual slavery and violence have been active for decades. It is only a few years ago that the culprits – and that too some only – were made to face justice, and convicted. Only a few days ago the British media reported on one of the leaders who had been released from prison and found to be shopping with his family in the very region where he had carried out his predatory activities, whereas he was supposed to have been deported to his country of origin.

Sexual harassment and violence against women and even underage girls are to be found in all countries, and have been highlighted during the #MeToo movement, involving high profile personalities whom one would never have thought capable of such infamy, exploiting their victims from their positions of power, whereas they were expected to be the protectors.

The drug endemic-epidemic is only too well known for the ravages that it is responsible for, destroying young lives and the respective families. Synthetic drug abuse has assumed alarming proportions in our own country, and we are still awaiting the concrete follow-up of the recommendations of the Lam Shang Leen Report.

These other ‘endemic-epidemics’ are ongoing and both demoralizing and devastating. When Covid-19 is over, they will need the amount of attention that it is receiving. But nothing prevents us from intensifying our efforts to simultaneously combat them.


* Published in print edition on 9 April 2021

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