The COVID-19 pandemic has infected approximately 7 million people and the death toll has surpassed 400, 000 across the world. India too has borne the brunt with cases increasing each day. The first case of COVID-19 in India was reported on January 30, 2020 and as of June 7, 2020, confirmed cases stand at 2.4 lakhs with more than 1500 deaths in the past one week in the country. The impact of the pandemic is visible across the sectors globally, but its impact on marginalized sections, women and children has been immense in India. This crisis is going to affect economy as never before leading to massive psycho-social impacts as well.
Women are at greater risk from the health perspective. Homes which were already unsafe along with families living in poor and substandard conditions have added on to the social inequities like gender-based violence and child abuse, lack of security, money and health. Various unplanned lockdown extensions in the country made it more difficult for them to seek help for such concerns. Resource limitations for women has brought in a situation where women tend to neglect their own requirements while prioritizing life and budgets of others in the family and issues like menstrual hygiene, mental health and her nutrition do not feature in the list of priority.
Focus has mostly been on testing, treatment and prevention of COVID-19 but people and communities are going through various social problems as well in adjusting to the current lifestyles and fear of the disease across nations. Conditions have all the more affected the other half of the population globally and particularly in India where abrupt lockdown has brought millions below the poverty line struggling for basic needs like food and shelter which then leads to unequal share in domestic responsibilities, to violence against the vulnerable members of the household.
Social stress caused by lockdown has many faces and reasons resulting from travelling restrictions and disruption of cultural celebrations, limited healthcare facilities and interruption in regular immunisations in hospitals leading to anxiety and fear among the population, social distancing with friends and family, closure of places of entertainment and leisure, unplanned closure of schools and colleges affecting both students and parents regarding the academic year and the loss of quality education. Inadequate infrastructure, leading to ill-equipped healthcare employees who are fighting endlessly to treat patients and protect themselves from infection at the same time are all quite visible. This major loss and unpreparedness is an aftermath of the negligence of healthcare sector since years. Incapacitated hospitals and distressed primary healthcare are significant reasons behind so much distress among the people for a disease which could be prevented with a little care and precaution.
The issue of migrant workers was one of the most cruel and highlighted issue in this pandemic where millions were rendered unemployed and stranded without money, food and shelter, criss-crossing the country’s highways to return to their villages and several meeting with accidents and deaths on their way. Unemployment has rendered a large section as directionless, leaving the social health as well as economy in shambles.
Several forms of racism triggered the division among the people of India and other global counterparts. The stigma of religious hatred, caste based discrimination and stigmatisation of people from the North East is equally dangerous to humanity where the less informed and biased media as well as people with vested interests tried to damage the social fabric of the country and left a big social impact in the fight against coronavirus. Reports of racism against the Chinese and other Asians elsewhere around the world and calling it a Chinese virus due to its origin, showed the deteriorated levels of sensitivity among the world population. Realising that viruses such as COVID-19 do not have race, nationality, or boundary is very important.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in many ways. Of the several implications on humanity, the issues of health, the rapid decline of economy, shortage of medicines, sanitizers, masks, and other essentials, poverty, unemployment has undoubtedly taken centre stage and each has left a mark on the lives of people.
If appropriate measures are not implemented in time, the virus of racism will inherently remain in the mind-sets of people, with a threat to peace and stability of the society. Long term planning and collective efforts of individuals, communities, governments, national and international organisations to fight against this invisible deadly virus is needed. Policy response to the pandemic as well as health and contracted economy is the need of the hour. Health interventions to those who are in need as well as prioritising the focus on the social setbacks in the country for a healthy start are of utmost importance. Reducing the psychological and social distress among people and promoting strategies to deal with the situation are required. Considering other health issues by the policy makers as well as strengthening of public healthcare with large investments and robust infrastructure and providing sufficient care to the patients suffering from other diseases as well are also very important.
In India leaders need to be more sensitive with the language and the issues as it can hurt the sentiments of people and should come up with solutions for the problems and not problems for the solutions.
The writer of this article is Resident Doctor, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi