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Covid-19 And The Challenges Ahead

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

On Christmas Eve, 2019, when the whole world was rejoicing to the sound of carol and drums, no one had the faintest idea that a pathological discovery in China would change the course of humanity’s history in this century forever. 

A clinical sample from a patient suffering an unresolved case in Wuhan Central Hospital was sent for testing in the Vision Medicals, and unluckily, it turned out to be the new coronavirus which somehow got transmitted to humans. Although the Chinese authorities struck down the claim published by one of its news outlets Caixin, it was retrieved outside China and published online. 

Two New Hospitals Under Construction In Wuhan
Amid surging cases of COVID-19, China built two hospitals in Wuhan in under two weeks.

On 31 December, 2019, China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a cluster of cases of pneumonia from unknown cause in Wuhan City in Hubei province and on 9 January, 2020, the WHO issued a statement saying Chinese researchers have made “preliminary determination” of the virus as a novel coronavirus. 

Although in the early days, with sheer ignorance and less information, everyone outside China laughed it off as seasonal flu, citing half-baked information published on media outlets regarding mortality rates and its infectivity. If the apocalyptic nature of the virus would’ve been foreseen, then perhaps the world wouldn’t have descended into such dismay. But it’s also worth mentioning that accurate information regarding seasonal flu before pre-corona days would’ve somehow lessened the trail of destruction, unlike the present days.

Preliminary Measures

On 23 January, North Korea became the first country to adopt measures to contain the virus by closing its entire border with China, followed by the United States of America issuing a Level 4 travel advisory for all of China on 30 January. Other countries followed suit. On 31 January, Mongolia closed its border with China and Singapore announced a ban on Chinese visitors. Then on 4 February, Taiwan announced a ban on foreign nationals who had been to China.

But the travel restrictions and border closures fell short of the speed at which the coronavirus travelled across nations and infected millions, all thanks to the interconnected world which had very little concern for the impending crisis which scientists have been warning about for decades.

Understanding Coronavirus

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses and its earlier strains have caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, which are still prevalent in some pockets of the world. It’s Zoonotic in origin, i.e. it has its origins in animals. We can think of it as the ticks and mites which we get from our pets, except, when we get a virus, we cannot just wash it off. 

The strain of coronavirus infecting humans was named SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) by a coronavirus group from the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, which was announced by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO on 11 March. And on the same day, a 100 years after the deadly Spanish flu, the WHO in a press-briefing declared Covid-19 a pandemic; a scientific term for a disease that has spread worldwide.

Origin of Covid-19

wet markets
Covid-19 is attributed to a wet market in China.

There are widespread speculations and fierce debate among scientists as to the origin of Covid-19, but owing to the report published by Robert G Webster, the most weighted theory of origin is attributed to a wet market in Wuhan, called the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market. Wet markets of China are already infamous for their role in the origin of infectious disease, owing to the sale of exotic and rare species of animals, reptiles, amphibians and pisces for human consumption. SARS is also attributed to a wet market in China and also served as a warning of a future outbreak from the same wet markets. 

More precisely, according to researchers from Yunnan University, Covid-19 had a four channelled transmission into humans. The published report theorizes that somehow bats, which are a reservoir of such viruses, transmitted it to pangolins and the infected pangolins came into contact with humans at the Wuhan Seafood Wholesale Market.

Transmission, Incubation and Pathogenicity

Till date, according to reports published in medical journals and general news outlets, Covid-19 is found to transmit its viral particles through two ways: 

  • Through respiratory droplets (5-10 µm in diameter) which is generated when a person coughs or sneezes. Any person in close contact (within 1m) with an infected person has a high chance of getting the infection. 
  • Direct contact with an infected person or any objects which have come in contact with the respiratory droplets of the infected person. 

So, this disease can seriously make anyone paranoid about their environment and the people around them. It thus leads to words like social distancing into people’s everyday jargon. 

Other information about Covid-19 is its incubation period. The incubation period is the time required by the virus to reproduce and invade healthy living cells of the human body. In the case of Covid-19, the incubation period is 14 days. 

The most serious property of the virus is its pathogenicity, which in layman’s term is the power to cause disease. Research in leading labs over the world shows that this virus moves down the respiratory tract into the lungs to infect the tiny air sacs (called alveoli), thus developing pneumonia. But multiple other types of research show complications in the infectivity of Covid-19, which includes some patients whose brains have also been infected, and in some, a trigger for Type-2 Diabetes. The complete picture of Covid-19 will only be visible in a year’s time. 

A very worrying trend about Covid-19 is its bivalent nature of infection; it’s both symptomatic and asymptomatic. Symptomatic infections include fever, cough, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, fatigue, chills, body aches, headache, sore throat, loss of taste, loss of smell, nausea and diarrhoea.

Precautions

The new norm of social distancing and wearing of masks should be mandatory everywhere and taken as the new normal.

“Prevention is better than cure”. 

The advice by the WHO includes social distancing of up to 1m, continuous washing of hands with soap when visibly dirty or contaminated with proteinaceous material for 40–60 seconds and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers with 70% alcohol for 20–30 seconds.

Diagnosis and Cure

The diagnosis of Covid-19 is made through the screening of swab samples using a bio-medical technique called rtPCR (Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction). Although it shows a high degree of accuracy, the cost and time required is enormous and has made it really challenging in developing countries with huge populations. 

No drug has been completely promising in the treatment of this virus, but some medicines have come to the frontline with a considerable impact. The very first name to the rescue is a very common name among the Malaria hotbeds in tropical countries, Hydroxychloroquine. Early clinical trials conducted by the National Institute of Health, U.S., showed it to be considerably effective among anti-viral drugs. 

India being the lead producer of this drug with 70% of world’s production, played a significant role in the export of this drug. But the Food and Drug Administration of the U.S. revoked the use of Hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital setting due to heart rhythm problems. 

The next thing that came to the rescue was the Convalescent Plasma Technology. It’s classic adoptive immunotherapy, a temporary vaccine, only instead of antibodies, it utilizes the plasma separated from blood taken from recovered patients. It has been applied to many infectious diseases before like SARS, MERS and the H1N1 virus. Statistical analysis showed a significant drop in the mortality rate among patients. 

The latest drug to enter the frontline is Dexamethasone, which is a low-dose steroid generally used to reduce inflammation in a range of other conditions, including arthritis, asthma and other skin conditions. It’s relatively cheap and cuts the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators.

The Race for a Vaccine

A 2013 study found that between 1998 and 2009, the average time taken to develop a vaccine was 10.7 years. However, with improvements in biomedical technology and extensive use of computational techniques, the Ebola vaccine became the fastest-developed vaccine ever, being produced in just 5 years. However, in the case of Covid-19, the scientific community has seen a challenge, unlike any other in their lifetimes. While Ebola was restricted to just a pocket of African countries and relatively fewer numbers, Covid-19 has engulfed almost every corner of the globe and infected millions. 

With such an unprecedented crisis, the entire world community is hoping for a vaccine at the earliest. While to the dismay of the general population, the leading scientists are highly sceptical of the time required. Some institutes and companies are hopeful of producing a vaccine by the year’s end, while some leading vaccinologists believe that it might take a year or two. 

A total of 114 candidate vaccines are in the race to end this pandemic. Some of the contenders making headlines are making big claims on the effectiveness of their vaccines and are hopeful of developing it by the year’s end. 

The first one is being developed by The University of Oxford in conjunction with AstraZeneca and it began its trial on humans. The next one is by a U.S. firm Moderna Inc., and it is set to conduct final-stage trials and hopes to have it ready by early 2021. Some of the other names include one by the Imperial College of London; Pfizer-BNTECH, Novavax, Johnson and Johnson, CanSino Biologics, Sinovac Biotech, CureVac.

An Unwanted Challenge and the Way Ahead

Health Worker
The attack on doctors, nurses and paramedics in our country disheartens and angers every law-abiding citizen of this country.

While healthcare workers continue to be on the frontline, everyone hoped for a unified consensus and fight. But contrary to everyone’s wish, a huge group of people from all walks of life including politicians, media persons and common people have gone against the tide and spewed conspiracy theories, refused the lockdown, attacked doctors, nurses and even the police. Perhaps the Covid-19 crisis makes us realize that a world community fractured on so many lines can’t suddenly unite, even amid a pandemic. 

The very first person to blow the trumpet was the President of the United States, Donald Trump. On 6 May, according to a report published by Reuters, Donald Trump urged China to be more transparent on the origin of Covid-19 and warned of holding China accountable. Then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that there was a significant amount of evidence that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Trump went a step ahead and on 30 May and announced that the U.S. would end its support for the WHO, citing bias over China. 

But there is one theory by Nobel Prize Winner Luc Montagnier which cannot be rejected straightway. He claimed on-air that Covid-19 was created in China’s lab as a vaccine against AIDS and that an industrial accident might have leaked it to the outer environment. However, many scientists called his claims baseless. A major drawback of these made-up theories and a taunt on the food habits of some communities is that it shifted our attention from the real problem. 

While the world should have fought against this virus as one community, these allegations led to attacks and harassments on the Asian community in Western countries. Even in India, there are multiple reports of harassment of students, working professionals and residents of North-East origin in mainland India. Also, the attack on doctors, nurses and paramedics in our country disheartens and angers every law-abiding citizen of this country. The administration should take cognizance of this. 

Finally, as the scientific community races for a vaccine, the general populace should extend support and cooperate with the medics and administration. Plus, the new norm of social distancing and wearing of masks should be mandatory everywhere and taken as the new normal. Only then will Covid-19 fade away for the time being.

Sources:

  1. Arnold, C. (2020, April 29). Why it’ll still be a long time before we get a coronavirus vaccine. Health.
  2. De, A., 2020. Explained: How close are we to a Covid-19 vaccine? What’s the process for testing?. The Indian Express.
  3. Holland, S. and Brunnstrom, D. (2020, May 5). Trump urges China to reveal all about origin of coronavirus [U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged China to be transparent about the origins of the novel coronavirus outbreak]. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  4. Joseph, A., 2020. Coronavirus Officially Has a Name: COVID-19. Scientific American, [online] [Accessed 26 June 2020].
  5. Kantis, C., Kiernan, S. and Bardi, J., 2020. UPDATED: Timeline Of The Coronavirus | Think Global Health. [online] Council on Foreign Relations. [Accessed 26 June 2020].
  6. Mahapatra, A., 2020. Inside The Race To Crack The Vaccine. [online] Livemint. [Accessed 27 June 2020].
  7. Özdemir, Ö., 2020. Convalescent (Immune) Plasma Therapy with All Aspects: Yesterday, Today and COVID-19. Erciyes Medical Journal.
  8. Prasad, R., Perappadan, B., Shelar, J. and Koshy, J., 2020. The Pandemic Notebbok-The Hindu. [ebook] [Accessed 26 June 2020].
  9. Roberts, M. (2020, June 16). Coronavirus: Dexamethasone proves first life-saving drug [A cheap and widely available drug can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.]. Retrieved June 27, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53061281
  10. Sinha, N. and Balayla, G., 2020. Hydroxychloroquine and covid-19. Postgraduate Medical Journal, [online] pp.postgradmedj-2020-137785.
  11. Webster, R. G. (2004). Wet markets—a continuing source of severe acute respiratory syndrome and influenza? The Lancet, 363(9404), 234-236. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(03)15329-9
  12. Zhang, T., Wu, Q., & Zhang, Z. (2020). Probable Pangolin Origin of SARS-CoV-2 Associated with the COVID-19 Outbreak. Current Biology, 30(8), 1578. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2020.03.063
  13. Coronavirus : What Happens When You Get Infected? (2020, June 25). Coronavirus.
  14. FDA cautions against use of Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems. (2020, June 15). Drug Safety and Availability.
  15. GreatGameIndia. 2020. Tracking The Source Of New Coronavirus Gene Sequencing – Caixin Report | Greatgameindia. [online] [Accessed 26 June 2020].
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  18. The Hindu, 2020. India biggest producer of ‘game-changer’ hydroxychloroquine drug; has enough capacity.
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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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