- The current variant, B.1.617, first discovered in India is of concern because it has a mutation in the two parts of the spike protein which is potentially more deadly.
India’s COVID-19 storm is the worst in the world and this is concerning for all of us. The country has run out of hospital beds, medical supplies like oxygen and critical medications. Resources are being rationed and healthcare workers are burned out. The result is mass cremations, post-traumatic stress and grief. People of all ages are dying due to COVID-19 which was avoidable. The people of India don’t deserve this, nobody does.
Leaders take to social media, from political Youth Congress Leaders like Srinivas B.V. to Bollywood stars like Sonam Kapoor to help. Instagram and Twitter are blowing up with patient information. Desperate cries for help for oxygen, Remdesvir, a hospital bed, anything that could save a loved one.
The Quint reporter Rohit Khanna, sites policy paralysis as the reason why India’s COVID-19 crisis has turned into sheer horror. This along with several other factors has caused this public health emergency. One thing is clear — action is needed immediately to control the spread of the virus and health misinformation, which means a robust investment in public health infrastructure.
Conspiracy theories are causing people to be confused on social distancing, masking and vaccinating. The vast population itself makes it nearly impossible to avoid crowds yet the country continued to host religious events with millions of people without any protective restrictions. In addition, mega super spreader events like political rallies without masks and distancing further contributed to this surge that has hit the country so hard.
The current variant, B.1.617, first discovered in India is of concern because it has a mutation in the two parts of the spike protein which is potentially more deadly. The double mutation makes the virus easier to attack, infect and replicate.
Furthermore, a war between homeopathy, ayurveda and allopathic medicine has misinformation swirling on Whatsapp circles about the virus, vaccinations, and fake cures. Rather than working synergistically, these schools of medicine compete with each other. The lack of evidence-based research behind remedies and the conflicting health information has led to public confusion and mistrust of health resources.
India, allocates only 1.26 percent of it’s gross domestic product (GDP) to healthcare, one the lowest rates in the world. It ranks 154th of 195 countries in terms of quality and accessibility to healthcare.
Although India’s public health system has improved in the last decade it needs much more support. By focusing on digital health, nutrition, prevention, health access and health literacy, the country can save lives. For example, poor health literacy about antibiotic use leads to resistant strains of bacteria. Production and distribution of antibiotics and other medications are not regulated, and often prescriptions are not needed. This causes people to avoid finishing a course of antibiotics leading to drug resistant pathogens. A study in 2019 found India to have the lowest drug resistant index out of 41 countries. Antibiotic resistance is just one of the persistent and growing global health concerns.
Indian Americans are helplessly watching this COVID-19 disaster unfold wondering what to do. Here are ways to help.
- Misinformation is deadly. Avoid forwarding an article until the following has been done. Pause before you share. Verify the source of the article by investigating the website it originated from including its ownership, mission, funding source and contact information. Read beyond the headlines. Headlines can be misleading and outrageous in order to get views but the content of the article may be different than the sensational headline. Research if the author is a health professional or a reliable source. Check the date of the article. Recirculating outdated articles could spread out-dated information. Look into links or supporting documents in the article to verify accuracy. Lastly, checking a fact-checking tool or app can be helpful.
- Be purposeful with donations. Research causes and nonprofits that support the poor and most vulnerable through public health advancement. Look at how organizations spend the funding given to them before blindly donating.
- Work with organizations that build trust in health literacy for Indians. Many Indian American organizations exist that could partner with Indian organizations to improve health literacy and public health education.
- Avoid traveling to and from India during the pandemic. The spread of variants is a real threat to global health and current vaccination efforts.
- Encourage your relatives to get vaccinated and stay home.
When India thought it had escaped the worst, it’s now in severe crisis because it prematurely let its guard down. The government failed to put forth enough efforts into vaccinating. Masking is not enforced as well as social distancing. We all should be concerned about India’s second wave.
We, in the US, can learn from the mistakes of India and continue to be vigilant by avoiding the spread of misinformation, supporting organizations that improve public health and health literacy, avoiding international travel, continuing to practice the Center of Disease Control (CDC) safety guidelines and getting vaccinated. Let’s all do our part to fight COVID-19 because what we do, impacts each other.
Dr. Asha Shajahan is a primary care physician, writer and podcaster from Detroit, Michigan.