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The pandemic paradox

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–By Dr. Aishwarya Rohatgi & Dr. Amrita Priyadarshini; Pursuing Master’s in Public Health, Indian Institute of Public Health, Delhi(PHFI)

Well paradoxes are truth of life. The fight between the good and bad or beautiful and ugly has been since their birth. Usually, one side dominates the other. And when it’s the negative side that dominates, it becomes a matter of concern. Covid-19, a pandemic, also reflects a curious paradox. While at one end due to the lockdown imposed during the pandemic, there is enough time for ourselves and our family, there is decrease in rapes, murders, thefts, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, illegal animal poaching, unlawful encroachments and deforestation, on other end it is taking a heavy toll on human lives, impacting multifarious dimensions. At the other end the pandemic has almost paralyzed all the vital sectors of societal organization like trade, commerce, education and transport. The psychosomatic or the mental frame has faced a huge blow in the ongoing pandemic. The notions of physical distance, isolation, stay at home and social distancing have become the gospel truth but not without the demerits. 

The socio-psychological spheres of human life are in crisis. There is a tremendous increase in the trends of domestic violence, domestic fights, psychological traumas, depression, anxiety, paranoia, short temperedness and irritability. There has been a great surge in the number of conflicts and brawls amongst people. While the stress surrounding everyone is vast, the major heat is faced by the women. 

Women are struggling between the household chores and the office work with no support staff and very little help from their partners. This is resulting in greater emotional and physical trauma. In the marginalized sections, where women, who faced the abuse, escaped the violence by spending time at work. Now, they are spending 24 hours inside a small house with uncertainty of food and essentials, and bearing the brunt of the lockdown the most.  Women who are facing the maltreatment have no idea how to break the existing shackles and escape from this situation during these days. Besides, this women are facing healthcare challenges like access to quality of reproductive, maternal and child health services. All these caveats take a toll on their mental and social wellbeing. Despite being the gender lesser in number to fall sick or die of covid 19, it is the gender that is facing more brutalities within the confines of their so called safe abodes.

The virus doesn’t differentiate between the privileged or less privileged. It doesn’t discriminate between the lives it affects, however, one may argue that the magnitude and kind of issues people face across different social and economic classes may differ, highlighting the inequities of the society.

Man being a social animal, a harsh & absolute measure like a lockdown spells doom for all humans who crave for social interaction every now and then. The impacts are that they spiral into anxiety and depression or resort to binge watching, binge eating which indirectly harm their physical as well as psychological wellbeing. And when the curtains of lockdown raise, we may see a rise in the already rising non communicable diseases or commonly known as lifestyle diseases.

Another major side effect of the current crisis is fear of losing jobs, salary cuts and delayed appraisals. Unemployment is on the rise and the economic losses also contribute to anxiety and stress. The emotional challenges employees of all sections are facing have increased manifold. The employees who are still working on site in industries such as food services, healthcare and other essential services have different concerns and stress levels from those working from homes. They fear the lack of sufficient workplace safety and being infected by co-workers. The above mentioned problems might sound like a   leaf out of the book of complexities that the pandemic brings with it, however they are layered and deep rooted

One more aspect that needs dire attention is the rising number of suicide attempts and cases of suicide among people who apparently think they are covid suspects, and due to the innate fear around being stigmatised or ousted and disregarded by family, friends and the society as a whole, they are compelled to take their lives. This comes under the ambit of psycho social wellbeing, which is an indispensable part of encouraging holistic health during this time. 

If we turn our gaze from the privileged towards the other side, which is what the word paradox wants to denote, we have the lower quintile of our population, who work each day to make their ends meet. The burning need of roti, kapda aur makan push them towards cities from their far off villages. Their concerns are either made negligible or highly politicised. It is heart-breaking to see that even in the 21st century poverty and hunger can be more barbaric than a pandemic can. The daily wage labourers, migrant workers have been rendered jobless, homeless and crippled by inequitable society. They have been stripped off the right to go back to their homes to their loved ones in their remote villages. For them, the lockdown means spending hours in the jam packed cowshed converted rooms with no sanitation or water. They are marooned in the cities, unsure of their sustenance and safety. 

Some were so desperate to leave the cities that they braved hunger, thirst, scorching heat, police harassment and the threat of disease and death, and took the long march on foot in scores, to their villages. Their illiteracy was used to catapult conjectures around a disease which fuelled misinformation and aggravated their situations to an even larger extent. While many were fortunate enough to avail the measures taken by the government and with the help of good Samaritans could reach their homes safely, many were stuck at the border, stranded and sprayed with disinfectants. In a matter of hours, the unanticipated public health crisis led to a large humanitarian catastrophe. 

The senior citizens, who constitute the 9% of the population and the often neglected ones, are facing all the more difficulties during this mandatory phase of social distancing. A Help age India survey estimates that 6% of elderly live alone. With no domestic help around and no transport system, it’s getting difficult for them to leave their houses even for the essentials and medicines. And the heightened risk of being susceptible to the infection is making the elderly more anxious. In addition to the virus threat, elderly are coping with abuse, fear of being duped and loneliness.  

This pandemic has opened the otherwise hidden Pandora’s Box of paradoxes in the society, one cannot run away from. And has uncovered an unattended wound, turning it into a bleeding open wound. Where, nothing except mutual understanding, patience and cooperation can come to our rescue in this crisis situation. Collective response and social solidarity is the way forward. 

Here we would like to say that a holistic approach is required. Or we can put it this way that strategizing against the most attacking player in the team doesn’t win you matches, tricks against all the playing eleven with a collective team effort does. Hence attacking the virus alone won’t be the solution to the much larger public health mishap. Simultaneously, catering to the determinants and problems plaguing the society, which deter an effective response, is essential. Otherwise we  can’t  foil the catastrophic collapse of our health, social and economic framework. 

This crisis has given us the opportunity to reconnect and strengthen the lost relationships and embark on a journey of self-reflection as an individual, as a society and as a system.  We have suddenly been compelled to shift gears and enter the Great slowdown mode from the Great acceleration mode that defined our lives since the last few years. The world won’t be the same at the other end of the crisis. We need to be a caterpillar and learn to transform within the cocoon to emerge a beautiful butterfly post the pandemic.

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