Pandemic and India: Our Struggles and Snags

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Pandemic and India: Our Struggles and Snags

It has been more than a year since the pandemic started, the devastation it has caused to the health care systems and the economy are evident before the world to witness. Ever since the the first-ever case was recorded in Wuhan, Hubei Province in December 2019.

COVID-19 as single-stranded mRNA viruses have a high mutation rate with differing symptoms. Multiple variants have been discovered over the course of few months. The first variant B.1.1.7 which was initially detected in the UK on 14 December 2020 followed by the second variant B.1.351 detected in South Africa in the same month. The third variant was identified in travellers from Brazil during routine screening at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants were recently identified in California in February 2021. These variants tend to spread even more quickly and easily than the other variants. These mutants come under the Variant of Concern (VOC).

Why is the second wave deadlier than the first wave?

As COVID-19 deaths crossed the 3 million mark globally on 26 April 2021. Asia presents a contrasting picture in comparison with the United States and the West. It has been observed that much like the first wave the mortality rate in western countries remains lower than that of Asia’s second wave. India’s population density is higher, social distancing becomes harder, making the population more vulnerable to the disease spreading rapidly. After a brief spike in cases in the first wave nearing 1 lakh cases, massive gatherings could have been avoided this time, especially in states like West Bengal which just finished polling for the legislative assembly elections.

The ‘double mutant’ virus which was traced in Maharashtra in March 2021, did become a major threat even India relaxed its restrictions to kick-start its economy further devastated by the nationwide lockdown. In addition to this, This strain is also said to be found in 7 other countries. However, the current scenario indicates a significant spike in deaths across the country (3,293 deaths as of 27th April 2021). Although, this isn’t the right time to conclude on the severity of the second wave in India as the graph is still trending upwards. Questions throughout the pandemic, figures and statistics of the infected and deceased as well as the world beyond the pandemic have varying but uncertain answers. An insight drawn from India’s experience with the 1918 influenza pandemic can help understand the patterns. Comparison to 1918 Influenza epidemic.

The 1918 pandemic had a striking resemblance on the impact with respect to the collapse of the healthcare system and the breakdown of the economy. However, the major drawback was to accurately estimate the effects of the 1918 pandemic are the poor quality of available data.

Both pandemics involve viruses that attack the respiratory system, with the H1N1 strain of avian influenza causing the 1918 pandemic and the SARS-CoV-2 strain from the coronavirus family causing the COVID-19 pandemic. In major urban centres, the infections were high as these cities were highly populated. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 was short but severe. It killed millions worldwide over a short time, with India being the worst casualty alone reaching10 and 20 million deaths. Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions like social distancing and shutdown of schools and restaurants, public gatherings were prohibited, wearing masks and maintenance of hygiene was compulsive. The lethality varied due to factors like quality of life and lower life expectancy owing to rampant poverty in the past than it is today.

India’s vaccination program. What is India doing to tackle the crisis?

Even as India was caught unaware in the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, it gradually improved in its testing rates and covid centres worked round the clock to flatten the curve. But the biggest achievement so far was to develop two indigenous vaccines- Covaxin and Covishield. India’s vaccination drive already began in early 2021. Although the vaccination has been found, the major challenge is to overcome the hurdles of procuring adequate vaccine quantities and safely deploying the vaccine to India’s population of over 1.3 billion people, especially to the poor. The most affected people in this pandemic are the poor, due to the economic impacts of the lockdown.

The Union and State Governments have been working on improvising pharmaceutical interventions like oxygen plants, vaccination drives and many more programmes, this process should have begun much earlier. An earlier start could have possibly led to decreased mortality rate. The lack of expertise in the bureaucrats, the external malign influences, lack of logistics, are therefore the reasons behind people being outrageous about the oxygen supplies and the therapeutics not reaching each one of them. Since there has been a severe breakout of the virus in the second wave, it has been an eye-opener for the government to work efficiently and the data shows that they are making progress.

As the number of covid cases surged in the second wave in India, US President Joe Biden and his administration faced severe criticisms over preventing the export of raw materials to India on grounds of ‘domestic demand’. This act of “vaccine nationalism” didn’t go down well with common Indians as the raw materials were crucial for India’s production of vaccines. It had an indirect impact on developing nations that relied on India’s pharmaceutical strength to cater to their demands. Many suspect it to be a deliberate attempt to undermine India’s importance in the pharmaceutical industry by favouring domestic agencies like Pfizer. After a call between India’s National Security Advisor Ajith Doval with his counterpart Advisor of US National Security Jake Sullivan, National he US government finally agreed to supply therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, PPE kits to help India fight against the second wave, followed by a team of Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts to work with India to contain the spread of the virus.

India’s Role in Efficient Vaccination drive

Currently, India is circulating two kinds of vaccines, Covaxin and Covishield which constitutes about 70-80 million doses each per month. India generates surplus oxygen with daily production of over 3000 – 7000 metric tonnes, yet lacks tankers to supply these stocks. India’s allies are assisting by exporting oxygen tankers, which can speed up the process in the fore-coming weeks.

India’s has to improvise and innovate administrative mechanisms to ensure timely and efficient delivery of the vaccine because even India’s well-oiled and successful Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) in its current state, will be inadequate to carry out the COVID-19 vaccination drive within a short period. Universal Immunisation Programme caters to nearly 30 million pregnant women and 27 million infants annually. Whereas in the case of COVID-19 vaccine has to reach over 1 billion Indians, i.e., 16 times the annual recipients under UIP.

About Author :

Greshal Kaliyanda, is pursuing 2n Year Journalism and Mass Communication from the Department of Humanities, Alva’s Education , Moodabidri. Her interests are Writing, Public Relation and Social Media Content Creation

 


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