As a health professional with knowledge on how communicable diseases are spread and how to control the rate of transmission, I am all for
- social distancing,
- disinfection and sanitation,
- use of PPEs,
- and other means.
Even in non-COVID19 cases, like in the instance of the common cold or flu, it has always been the primary responsibility of an infected individual to protect other people from his/her disease.
- He /she should wear a mask,
- possibly sleep in another area of the house,
- use separate eating utensils, and
- sanitize or disinfect often.
We have been living with the presence of both non-infectious and infectious diseases for as long humanity’s existence. We have also lived with the fact that diseases sometimes ultimately cause death.
Death is inevitable but life must go on.
Now here comes the COVID-19 pandemic which is causing a pandemonium primarily due to the disease itself and secondarily because of how our world responded to it.
- community quarantines,
- closure of non-essential businesses, and
- suspension of classes among many other interventions
resulted in the economic meltdown of many countries.
Then we are presented with these sort of illustrations circulating in the Internet…
A lot of people are asking the same questions.
Why are governments responding this way when COVID-19 deaths are diminutive compared to other conditions? Is this the right method towards addressing the issue? Or is this shotgun approach an overkill that’s causing more harm than good?
Here are some of my musings, based particulary on our experience here in the Philippines.
1.Unlike most of the other causes of death presented in the illustration, COVID-19 is infectious. Many other leading causes of death like stroke, hypertension, and smoking are lifestyle diseases and can therefore be avoided.
So we may argue that the seasonal flu and pneumonia, both infectious diseases, are leading causes of death with roughly 70,000 (est) deaths in the Philippines annually. So far in a span of 4 months, we only have 600 deaths from COVID-19. Shouldn’t the seasonal flu and pneumonia be more alarming than COVID-19?
Well, let’s proceed.
2. Seasonal flu is seasonal. Meaning, it is predictable. We can already project how many cases there would be in a year. We already have vaccines available and the public health sector is already adept at responding to it.
So again we may argue, if health practitioners already know so much about it, the fact remains that so far, seasonal flu and pneumonia death rate is still way higher than that of COVID-19.
3. Countries immediately went on lockdown at the onset of COVID-19. Air travel to high risk countries was restricted or totally suspended early on. In the Philippines, a state of public health emergency was declared when we had as few as 16 cases and 1 death.
COVID-19 is a novel disease. It is relatively unknown to the health professionals and scientists, and therefore highly unpredictable.
Now, let’s ask ourselves, what if the world didn’t respond the way it did? Do we have an idea how many times more the cases would be? Do we know how many deaths there would be? Could the numbers be exponential relative to what we have now?
Let’s take a review of history, during the time when medicine was not as advanced as it is now and channels of mass communication were not as accessible or far reaching.
- The Bubonic Plague in the 1300’s caused 200M deaths.
- The Small Pox in the 1500’s led to 56M deaths.
- The Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s led to 40-50M deaths.
So yes, there is definitely that fear that if left uncontrolled or unmanaged, COVID-19 might have the potential to reach the same numbers.
So again we may argue, if fear is what’s leading us towards actions that cause
- collapse of the economy,
- poverty and hunger,
- increase of mental health issues due to prolonged isolation, and
- rise of lifestyle disease cases due to sedentary behavior.
We ask, is it all really worth it?
4. We may possibly mitigate the spread of COVID-19 but at what cost? If the reason for all the seemingly extreme concerted efforts is to reduce the number of deaths (because our primary goal is to preserve human life), what will be the death toll of other conditions?
- Lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle are factors to a myriad of health conditions – diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and obesity among many others.
- A collapse in the economy will lead to poverty and hunger.
- An increase or aggravation of mental health issues may lead to violent crimes, accidents, or suicides.
So again we ask, is it all really worth it?
5. Here’s another supposition. Mass media shapes our reality. If all we ever hear about in mainstream media and other informal channels is COVID-19, then it has the tendency to become more ginormous that it really is.
Are “the powers that be” taking advantage of the situation and maximizing the use of media to shape our reality to push an agenda? What agenda exactly?
I don’t know.
It could simply be for monetary gain. Or it could be for a dangerous ideology.
So what do we do now?
6. We need comparative data on the incidence and mortality rate of seasonal flu or other prevalent infectious diseases versus COVID-19, starting from the time we enforced mitigating measures.
Community quarantines, travel restrictions, wearing of face masks, social distancing, and regular disinfection are the same measures that mitigate the spread of influenza or tuberculosis. If however, cases of these illnesses are still higher compared to that of COVID-19, it’s definitely time to ask ourselves,
“What’s the point?”
7. We also need comparative data between countries doing lockdowns and community quarantines – the whole shebang – versus countries implementing targeted measures like isolating seniors and more susceptible individuals.
If the data reveals that there is no significant difference, again, it’s definitely time to ask ourselves,
“What’s the point?”
I still don’t have all the answers. There’s still so much uncertainty and what ifs.
But I trust data. Let’s look at the data – all the relevant, unfiltered, untainted data and act based on that.
Let us not act based on fear.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Tim 1:7
I pray that our leaders will decide based on scientific information and a clear mind – not based on the whisperings of fear and the mob, lest we become oblivious pawns to the devices of a sinister plot.
This is how we practice our liberty and our intellect – making logical decisions for the holistic welfare of the majority.