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Understanding The COVID-19 Pandemic Through The Eyes Of A 16-Year-Old

By Neil Dasgupta

Introduction

On the first day of the new year, 2020, most people woke up blissfully unaware that a deadly virus of unknown origin was causing severe respiratory illness and mysterious deaths in Wuhan, a major commercial hub and capital of central China’s Hubei province.

Soon enough, the name ‘novel Coronavirus’ or SARS-CoV2 dominated TV news bulletins, newspaper headlines, and social media as the deadly virus behind a highly infectious disease called COVID-19. This virus has taken 371K lives (and counting) and infected over 6.06 million people globally (as of June 2, 2020).

NAGAON,INDIA-MARCH 22,2020: A Doctor use thermal screening devices on youth who return from Kerela state in the wake of deadly coronavirus at Civil Hospital in Nagaon district of Assam,India – PHOTOGRAPH BY Anuwar Ali Hazarika / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Anuwar Ali Hazarika/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

What is this novel Coronavirus or SARS-CoV2? In the natural course, all species, whether animals or humans, carry many viruses in their bodies and have natural defences to such viruses. Some viruses are zoonotic, meaning they jump from animal to human. Some researchers have stated that that the virus may have passed from bats to humans through the pangolin. Once humans got exposed to the virus, they transferred it from person-to-person.

Where did Covid-19 originate and how does it spread? Covid-19 is said to have originated in the Wuhan live animal market, around December 2019, and within days was declared a global pandemic, becoming a worldwide contagion in over 180 countries.

This virus spreads by wet particles released in the air by an infected person. These droplets generally do not travel more than a few feet, fall to the ground or onto surfaces in a few seconds and infect people in proximity — this is why social and physical distancing is effective in preventing the spread. This virus causes severe respiratory difficulties amongst critically ill patients.

How did countries respond? Countries closed their international borders, stopped international flights and ordered their citizens to stay-at-home and work-from-home in order to ensure social and physical distancing and break the chain of the spread of the highly contagious virus.

What has been the impact of lockdown in India? India has been in lockdown since March 25, 2020, and this has hurt economic activity and caused huge business losses. Millions of Indians, especially in the informal sector, have lost their jobs and have been left stranded without any income or food.

Migrant Labourers
Migrant Labourers forced to walk home during the Coronavirus lockdown in India.

Hunger and starvation have become a reality. Migrants workers defied curfew orders, started walking hundreds and thousands of miles to reach their native places. Many died on the way with heat, exhaustion, and hunger. The lockdown has not helped control the virus either. With less than 600 cases before the lockdown, there are now almost 2 lakh cases.

Which countries are the worst affected by COVID-19? After the first COVID-19 case was reported in Wuhan, it has spread to more than 6 million people globally in just 5 months (as of June 2, 2020). While the virus originated in China, now more than 98% of the global Covid-19 cases are currently outside China. To everyone’s surprise, China does not even feature in the ten most affected countries with Covid-19 – refer to the chart below.

Chart: Top Ten Most Affected Countries with COVID-19, as of May 28, 2020. 

Source: Worldometers 28/5/2020 Cases Deaths Death % Cases/ 1M Pop Deaths/ 1M Pop
USA 1745911 102114 5.8% 5277 309
Brazil 414661 25697 6.2% 1952 121
Russia 379051 4142 1.1% 2598 28
Spain 283849 27118 9.5% 6071 580
UK 267240 37460 14.0% 3939 552
Italy 231139 33072 14.3% 3822 547
France 182913 28596 15.6% 2803 438
Germany 181895 8533 4.7% 2172 102
Turkey 159797 4431 2.7% 1897 53
India 158959 4431 2.7% 115 3

Head here for an updated chart (As of June 2).

It is interesting to note that 8 of the top ten countries are rich, industrialized and highly developed countries with excellent and highly advanced healthcare and medical infrastructure. The USA, when compared to India, has about 50 times more infected cases per million population and 100 times more deaths per million population. The death percentage in India (2.7%) is half that of the US and one-fifth of the rate in UK, Italy and France.

Some attribute India’s low Covid-19 caseload to our high immunity levels perhaps due to the BCG (Bacillus Calmette Guerin) vaccine administered to Indians at birth. Others point to India’s relatively young population with two-thirds of the population under 35 years and a half under 25 years of age. Countries such as Portugal, Japan, China that have a mandatory BCG vaccination program also have a low number of Covid-19 cases.

Note: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not recommended the BCG vaccine as a cure for COVID-19.

And European countries with older populations having co-morbid conditions like diabetes, blood pressure and lung problems have seen very high caseloads and death rates.

So, What Are The Lessons We Can Learn From The Covid-19 Pandemic?

  1. Increase investments in healthcare: India spends only around 1.3% of its GDP on healthcare, a figure which pales in comparison to the 8-10% of GDP spent by ‘developed’ nations. We have glaring shortages of N95 face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators, doctors, nursing staff, and more, all across India. The COVID-19 outbreak is a wakeup call to our policymakers and government officials to increase healthcare spending in India.
  2. Decongest big cities: Rapid urban growth in India has led to people migrating from villages and smaller towns to bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Surat, Jaipur, in search of jobs. They stay in highly dense and congested urban-rural clusters/slums where they share dwelling space and common toilets. Social distancing is almost impossible to achieve. It is no wonder that COVID-19 cases are highest in the top 30 urban cities of India. We need to decongest our cities.
  3. Regulate live animal markets in China: Chinese dietary choices include meats from exotic (and often protected) wild animals such as bats, civet cats, pangolins, snakes, etc. The lessons from the SARS-CoV epidemic in 2002 where the virus passed from bats to humans through the civet cat seem to have been forgotten, and two decades later we have been devastated with the SARS-CoV2 pandemic.
  4. Develop a quicker response to contagious diseases: In a highly interconnected and globalised world, a disease in one corner of the world can spread globally in a matter of days and weeks. Countries need to develop fast response plans to prevent the spread of infectious disease. South Korea and Italy (two countries with a similar population, GDP and size) had their first COVID-19 case at the same time at the end of January 2020. However, South Korea was quick to close its international border and ensure social distancing and Italy was late in doing both. Presently, Italy has 20 times more cases and 120 times more deaths than South Korea.

    testing is the key to defeat coronavirus
    Testing is the key to defeat coronavirus
  5. Less is more: We need to learn to live with less. Because the more we want, the more we exploit the environment. With the lockdown, we experienced clean air, clear skies and clean rivers in India, all in just 60 days. As we resume normalcy once a medicinal cure or a vaccine is in place, we should learn our lessons and make a genuine effort to protect and preserve our environment.
  6. The importance of human interaction: After my tenth board exams got over on March 18, I was looking forward to spending time with my friends when Delhi went into total lockdown and we couldn’t leave our homes. In the initial days of the lockdown, I spent quality time with my parents and my sister playing board games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Chess. My parents taught me how to cook and bake and I enjoyed playing with our female Labrador- Oreo. But as the lockdown kept extending, I started missing the human interaction I took for granted earlier. Everything is online now, be it virtual classrooms or chatting with friends, watching movies or playing video games. I never realised the value of human interaction before.

Maybe this virus is nature’s warning to all of us to relook at our selfish and materialistic lifestyles and respect the bounties of nature with humility. Maybe we need to be thankful for what we have and not constantly exploit the environment to fulfil our never-ending greed. Because what nature has given can be taken away in a flash of a second and I think COVID-19 is proof of that.

About the author: Neil Dasgupta is a 16-year-old student from Sanskriti School, New Delhi. The relief of finishing his tenth grade CBSE Board exams in March 2020 was short-lived as his life got disrupted with the Covid-19 lockdown. This article on the novel Coronavirus is his attempt to share his views and observations on deadly pandemic as he sees it from his eyes. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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