India’s lockdown is a learning opportunity

By Nazarul Islam, Copy Edited by Adam Rizvi, TIO: Sheer patriotism may not induce the Indian media to drum up the unsavory phenomenon of recent slowdown of their nation’s economy. Obviously, this was something that had invoked global rating agencies, together with World Bank and Asian Development Bank along with India’s noted economists. The country is presently facing another unheard of and unprecedented event, familiar to all, as the ‘lockdown’—emerging dramatically after shutdown, in few selected regions of the country.
Modi’s clarion call to maintain self-restraint in undertaking journeys, observing the symptoms of the effects known to be caused by the pandemic, crowding in public places, littering the living areas and so on—bring to our mind the role played by Britain’s Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill during second World War. He had then exhorted his fellow-citizens to fight the enemy from their homes, their street, workplaces and anywhere else, it was deemed possible.
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, pandemics, forest fires, droughts, heat waves, cloud bursts and so on, are making their mark in different regions, spread across the wide world. Every day of the calendar emerges out with challenging events—that are aimed to test our focus and resilience.These provide us the journeys we all go through in overcoming our trials and tribulation. Obviously, the big challenge for India is the lockdown for 21 days, as a testing period for India’s diaspora.
The state administration, along with a multitude of voluntary groups that are known to rise to the emergencies all over the country, have continued in their efforts to keep in check the spread of the deadly corona virus. They have catered to the special needs for the affected sections of our countrymen, including our societies’ vulnerable who are thriving in slums. They are the poverty ridden, challenged tribals, urban poor, disabled and ignorant masses. Don’t they deserve our best attention?
A lesson that emerged from the lockdown remains to be the citizens’ need for sacrifice and discipline; in giving up their disorderly lifestyle that has overburdened India’s healthcare system, and the law-maintenance machinery. Another significant part of learning reminds us to refrain from talking irresponsibly at both—the public platforms or to the common people in the streets.
Again, as a sequel to these lessons, we also need to learn that rushing to the stores to indulge in panic buying of life’s essentials, is undesirable because this creates panic and worsens the plight of those who don’t have the wherewithal to survive.
Contagions are the diseases that spread from one person or animal to another through touch or through the air. These have currently aroused the world like never before, thanks to the virus that has been lately titled Covid-19, particularly after a few weeks of being talked about as ‘just a Coronavirus originating from China’.
Unlike this CV’s many predecessors, pathogenic organisms which threaten to upset the life and health of human beings as well as other life forms such as cattle, fowl and other domesticated animals, are merciless killers which are taking toll of lives of the victims in specific locations. Corona virus had marched to the status of an epidemic, measured by the guidelines of World Health Organisation (WHO) . It’s sheer killing intensity (22,000) that has caused the issue to be declared as a pandemic, given its reported presence in more than 168 countries across the world. A total in excess of a half million people on earth have been afflicted with the disease.
The causes and cures of most of the illnesses bugging human populations all over the planet, are understood to some extent by only a small fraction of the masses, including the literati and the educated. The illnesses being classified as (a) Contagious and (b) Hereditary. Thankfully Corona is accepted as something not hereditary, but contagious and that is no big consolation.
The extent of knowledge generated by both pioneers of the past and today’s research groups related to medical science, seems to be mocked at by the ongoing and unabated march of the virus we know as the Covid-19. The cure for the illnesses caused by this virus are certainly not in sight, while the preventive measures seem to be the only option before people to keep off its large-scale, dreadful impact.
The pace of the spread of Covid-19, in the initial days following its emergence, has taken the world by surprise exposing the virtual lack of knowledge relating to containing the contagion. The steps being taken in India in an effort to match that pace, particularly issuing the many easy-to-practice actions such as washing hands with soap, avoiding contact with those experiencing symptoms associated with the virus, keeping the living space clean, closing the mouth with handkerchief or tissue paper while coughing or sneezing, disposing of these materials in bins with lid, avoiding places of crowding, not to travel except under unavoidable situations and so on have been praised by the WHO.
All out steps taken so far, are reminders of the fact that the people need not to be indifferent towards compliances with the aforementioned practices; that have to reach the rural residents who need to be guided by trained volunteers as the urbanites who are falling in line. The task of containing the present contagion to meet with success depends on proactive change in the habits of people that are conducive to emergence of both known contagions and new ones.
On the one hand, we are seeing public health specialists, bureaucrats, doctors and paramedics, scientists, media personnel, airline managements — all of them responding spontaneously with courage and vision, all wanting to manage the crisis and do their bit.  On the other hand, we have also seen some countries and their leadership take it lightly and some being overwhelmed by what needs to be done. This crisis has indeed shown the world what public health leadership can achieve or not achieve.
What exactly, is Public Health Leadership?  Public Health Leadership is the practice of mobilising people, organisations and communities to effectively tackle tough public health challenges.  It relates to the ability of an individual or organisation to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of public health programs in the community and (or) the organisation in which they work. It involves inspiring people to craft and achieve the vision and goals of having healthy communities.
 
 Public Health leaders across the subcontinent need to provide mentoring, coaching and inspiration. They have to keep encouraging colleagues, provide empowerment to people around them and ensure that they provide a sustained presence during times of crisis. And the world is witness to this — whether it is  the clinicians or nurses, or heads of Government, or the WHO or public health personnel. This is not an easy proposition even when the challenge is local, but then having a concerted response on a global scale is not beyond imagination
Again, what usually gets spoken about or even gets noticed are the visibly impactful people of people, who are exercising leadership at the top and we talk about it as though it is the exclusive prerogative of senior bureaucrats, heads of Government, health professionals and NGO leaders. We generally fail to notice the leadership that less visible people demonstrate in their own ways.
I had received a call from my close friend Dr. Malhotra, who had gone through his unusual experience of evidencing inspiring leadership in action, a few days ago while traveling in a taxi in the southern city of Bengaluru.  His driver Ramesh seemed to be a cheerful and friendly person and started a conversation the moment I got in. He started off by telling me how his business had slowed down and how the Coronavirus crisis was impacting him.
As Dr. Malhotra alighted from the taxi, he thanked the driver for the point he had driven to others, by informing all passengers traveling in his cab, particularly those who were coming from the airport. He led by example, and did what was needed to be done in the country. He also let his passengers know that he carried couple of masks with him, just in case he found his passengers coughing or sneezing.  This was real leadership he exhibited in the interest of public health.
The world has shown that it is indeed possible for people and nations to come together in fighting something that threatens all of us.  But all this can happen only when each of us demonstrate the leadership that is required — at a personal level, at a community level and at a global level.  Apart from simple hand washing to social distancing to respecting the public health demands made by Government health agencies, we also need to be sensitive to the economic pressures on people like Ramesh.
Leadership like the kind exhibited by cab driver Ramesh, displayed exactly was required from each one of us India, and not just from the top of the pyramid who are engaged in managing the crisis. We need every single individual to demonstrate the public health leadership, that our society desperately looks for today. Only then, can we truly take the fight against this virus or other mutants waiting in line, to their logical end and conclusion.
What we have learned from working together with societal concerns and not just the personal ones—will possibly end up, teaching us how to conduct this in the context of facing other global challenges like poverty, climate change and terrorism!
Compiled by Arisha R.

Nazarul Islam

The author is a former Educator, based in Chicago (USA).

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