Dr Afroz Ahmad Shah
Director-General of World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic because it has reached global proportions and it is rapidly increasing in intensity throughout the world.
The data available at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html shows that the total number of infected people as of 19th March 2020 are 218,743 of which more than 8800 people have unfortunately died. Until now three countries (China, Italy, and Iran) have shared the major brunt with majority of infected and dead individuals but the map may change as the disease spreads far and wide.
Recent studies from various countries that have suffered from COVID-19 have indicated that putting strict measures in place and at the right time greatly reduces the disease spread and number of infected plus diseased people. This is reflected in a recent report that was published by The New York Times and is available (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/13/opinion/coronavirus-trump-response.html). It shows an extremely worrying situation could arise in the US in the coming days, weeks, and month if the infection is not controlled. The data shows that more than 100 million people in America will be infected if the current situation is not checked, and the actual estimate could even be higher than this.
Shockingly, it highlights the fact that more than nine million could get infected at one time. Such a condition could lead to a doomsday scenario, and imagine the burden on medical facilities. A glimpse of this is on display in Italy and Iran where doctors have to choose between who gets the medical attention and who is left to die. Alarming! This happens when you have limited resources and more patients. Such a scenario predicts a death toll of about 982000 people in scientifically advanced US over a period of few months. The study makes an important prediction and demonstrates that if an early intervention is put in place it will dramatically reduce the spread of the disease, and could save thousands or even millions. And in contrast a delayed response will badly worsen the situation, and could perish millions more. The model predicts that if some aggressive measures were taken in the US from the start then the total infection peak will be controlled up to 533000 compared to 982000 if mild interventions are undertaken. Quite a big difference and these numbers are just the peak values. Likewise, the death toll will reduce to just 53000 instead of ~1 million. Therefore, aggressive measures, which include infection testing on a large scale, and prohibition on gathering of people etc. provide a rare window of hope where disease spread can be minimised, and lives saved.
COVID-19 has devastated some of the top healthcare providing countries in the world like USA, France, Germany, Italy and China etc. Now, think about God forbid such a situation developing in Kashmir? We know that our health care system is below the standards of even a third world country. This should frighten us and authorities should be ashamed of such a system. We are absolutely not ready for a major medical emergency not to talk of a catastrophe which may be on its way. So, what are the various options with us to control the spread of the disease and to minimise the potential mortalities? Here are a few immediate steps that could help:
1. Complete curfew throughout Jammu Kashmir state. This is important because we know our people will not follow rules and regulations to avoid the infection and shall continue to roam around freely and without precautions. So the most efficient way shall be allow for a complete curfew for a minimum of 20 days like the one imposed by government for purely political purposes on August 5 last year.
2. All private and government medical institutions should NOT allow staff, attendants, and patients without a proper gear, and these facilities should get ready to handle the worst scenario. Private hospitals are especially requested to make arrangements for this.
3. All religious and non-religious gathering ought to be completely prohibited.
4. Each area should organise and designate committees at various levels to keep a closer watch on people, and to make sure there are complete restrictions in place to avoid the speed and spread of the disease. These groups can also help as facilitators to make sure the essential supplies for people are not running out.
5. Government should swiftly allocate a separate budget for COVID-19 and should prioritise the reviewing of all public health facilities in this regard. It should specially open separate medical centres for Coronavirus patients. Make sure to not mingle Coronavirus patients with others.
Author is Assistant Professor in Structural Geology, Physical & Geological Sciences at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He can be reached at: [email protected]