Responding the pandemic
While the number of COVID-19 is still growing around the world, many countries are largely focusing on both containment and mitigation measures to respond the pandemic. Concerted efforts are needed to flatten the peak of the pandemic as it is likely to have adverse impacts on individuals, families and communities.
As an integral part of mitigation measures, social distancing primarily refers to policies that deliberately increase physical space between people. Such policies mainly encourage people to work from home. The primary purpose of the social distancing is to prevent transmission thereby flattening the peak of the disease. Therefore, the key policy actions across countries are promoting social distancing that primarily includes closure of non-essential services, banning mass gatherings, tele-working, self-quarantine and lockdown.
Some of the evidences show that social distancing is the most effective measure for both reducing the attack rate as well as delaying the disease peak. In this context, measures such as working from home can significantly reduce the disease attack rate despite some economic consequences such as income, food and housing insecurity.
In the recent weeks, walking outside is not allowed and mass gatherings are banned due to the risk of infections. Indeed, this has significantly changed the way work and live in our families and communities. Some people are having good times with families together. Some are reading their favourite books or papers, and others find times to watch movies or videos of their interest.
In response to the pandemic, countries across the world have restricted international travel. Unfortunately, tourism sector is badly affected. Due to border and travel restrictions, the situation of migrant workers is gloomy as they can not work for their livelihoods. Neither they can come to their homes at the moment. There is increasing stress, anxiety and uncertainties among people due to fears of rapid spread of the outbreak and lockdown.
There are several problems and challenges associated with social distancing. Since people have no work these days, they are facing difficult times to manage their daily needs such as food, vegetables, fuel, water and essential health care. Due to lockdown, people suffering from cold, fever or other chronic diseases do not have easy access to health care services in the health facilities.
So far, health workers are providing their services in the hospitals. They need adequate personal protective equipment while screening and testing the suspected cases of the virus. This is because health workers and care takers often face significant pressure and potential disease risk exposure. Similarly, hospitals face overwhelming pressure to provide testing and treatment services across the countries.
In addition, some of the studies reveal that use of facemasks, proper hand washing practices, and coughing practices can significantly prevent the risks of transmission. However, many urban poor do not have easy access to facemask, water and sanitation. Therefore, they do not have proper hand washing practices. This is likely to increase the risk of other diseases including coronavirus.
Many countries have used contact tracing and quarantine to control and contain the spread of the pandemic. House quarantine, for an example, is another effective measure to reduce the attack rate and contain the epidemic. In our context, though contract tracing has been a critical task, this helps the traced persons to get care and treatment early, and prevents further transmission of the virus. So, we need to intensify the contact tracing mechanisms more effectively and efficiently with the support from health workers and civil society organizations.
Undoubtedly, this serious pandemic is expected to have a significant and potentially lasting impact on mental health of populations. The anxiety and stress are prolonged due to increasing fears of the pandemic. People are changing their habits and most often asked to self-isolate which will reduce social connection and physical exercises.
In the face of public health emergency, effective communication is crucial to inform the public about the status of the pandemic and the risk it poses so that people can take timely protective measures to save lives and avoid the further spread of infections. But health authorities need to monitor the available information and updates from different sources to ensure it is clear and accurate.
In order to combat the pandemic, we need a strong political commitment and leadership to effectively mobilize the domestic resources, enhance regional cooperation, and build resilient health systems for providing essential diagnostic and treatment services for all. It is high time for the government to plan stronger and more coordinated efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic and mitigate its impacts. Equally important is to provide support packages to poor and vulnerable populations in the communities who are most affected by the pandemic.
(Bhandari is senior doctoral research fellow in global health and health systems)