Covid Is A Tale Of Two Different Worlds

SARS-CoV-2 and its disease Covid-19 have made the word coronavirus a household name. We came to realize how the nature (eg. sex, race, age) and nurture (eg. socioeconomic conditions, habits) can dictate the outcome of viral infection. Since most of the SARS-CoV-2 infections are asymptomatic, we can appreciate why ignorance is considered a bliss: less testing, less coronavirus, and therefore less panic. The fact that symptomatic Covid patients can be re-infected beg for a new approach to deal with the so called coronapocalypse. New and possibly more problematic coronavirus strains and other viruses of “pandemic potential” are emerging. In light of this, I argue that the solutions proposed in the First World cannot be translated to the Third World. Researchers must realize that the current pandemic may not be entirely in the domain of science. In other words, experts in the field must keep in mind the two worlds – developed and the developing one – while proposing any solutions to deal with the Covid situation.

By Jamshed Arslan

Solutions offered by the virologists may not even be applicable to most of the humanity, which lies outside the developed world. In this essay, I propose that the academics must present “doable” strategies because their research and recommendations have real life consequences.

Is it really a coronapocalypse?

The world’s population is above 7.5 billions [1] and the confirmed cases of Covid are over 88 millions [2] as of January 11, 2021, which is a little over 1%. The contagious potential is alarming, but the fact that only a tiny proportion develops a serious condition cannot be ignored. Even the testing capacity of most of the countries is limited. So, if a developed country reports thousands upon thousands of cases, it is partly because of the testing capacity, not because of a failure of healthcare system. In contrast, countries with very few Covid cases like North Korea and Turkmenistan may not even be testing with the vigor that is required for such a task. The countries with lower number of cases either hinder the free flow of information or do not have the economic or political capacity to take up the task of mass Covid testing. If we are not being politically correct, the world can be divided into two broad categories: First World, essentially the Western Europe, North America, Japan and Australia, with improved political, medical and economic standards; and the economically and politically unstable Third World. If there are two such contrasting worlds, can the solution for Covid in the First World be applicable to the Third World?

In other words, Covid pandemic is not a coronapocalypse as purported in the media because the intensity of the problem and the corona-fear are not equally distributed worldwide.

Media makes Covid either a “major concern” or “least of the concerns”

Media runs on news, and news means anything that grabs your attention. People staying home will invariably “consume” a lot of news, and more consumption means more product will be produced. Similar is the story with our 24/7 news cycle. When you keep people updated of each and every case not only in their city, but also throughout the world, you are bound to cause panic. This holds true for the First World with better political, medical and economic standards. Covid became the major obsession in these countries. Now, contrast that with the Third World where even the fundamental human rights are often missing. Here, Covid was least of the problems of “a common person” because the economic realities were much harsher than in the First World.

In other words, the difference between the Covid being “the major concern” and the Covid being “the least of the concerns” cannot be ignored.

Relationship with death is related to Corona-fear

Children are the most precious aspect of one’s life. Consider the infant mortality rate (IMR) per 1000 live births [3] from the two worlds. The IMR in Afghanistan and Pakistan is whopping 47 and 56, respectively. Compare this with USA, UK, Sweden or any other First World country where it stands below 10. In other words, the phenomenon of death is not new in the Third World. The capacity to absorb grief is, arguably, superior in the so called Third World. They do not need “news” to know that life is full of suffering. First World can “pretend” to face the similar problems as the Third World, but there is a reason why desperate migration only works from the Third World to the First World, and almost never the other way around.

 In other words, data or the hardcore “facts” about Covid may be detached from the “truth” if we consider a more “human” perspective based on ground realities.

Economic considerations

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of people earn below 1.9$ per day, which is defined as the international poverty line (IPL).[4] For the readers of English newspaper, it may be a passing line, but for the millions under the dreadful IPL, it is everything from food and water to the living facility, power supply and education. The things taken for granted in the First World are hard to get in the Third World. But there is a plot twist.

There is a group of people who is inspired by the First World and often genuinely want their country to reach the level of the First World. This group forms a tiny minority and is often referred to as the “Elites”. It is these elites who generally run things, politically and otherwise. They often bring the Covid obsession of the First World to the Third World because it is often possible to live a First World lifestyle in a Third World country. Elites watch international news of the First World with all the emphasis on reducing human misery and try to implement the First World “precautions” to the Third World. Here, the elites ignore something called population density and seem to lecture the populace on social distancing with the same vigor as authorities in countries like Sweden, Denmark and many others do where there is low population density.

 In other words, economic considerations and living standards must be crucial parts of dealing with corona-crisis.

Concluding remarks

We have learnt that the coronavirus is a danger for immunologically challenged individuals and that the children are mostly spared. This means that we may have to let nature work it all out. Poor governance will make Covid even less bearable. We will have to learn to live with the coronavirus. What joins the two worlds together is the precautions against Covid. However, the lockdown and stringent bans on gatherings proposed by sincere virologists is different from the scenarios that an ordinary individual can tolerate.

Hundreds of studies have been published and disseminated for the world to ponder upon, but the panic mode in the developed world was usually forsaken in the developing countries like Pakistan. The latter phenomenon of apparent resilience in poor countries may stem from the fact that life is already difficult in the Third World. Coronavirus is a utopia of the dystopian novels and as long as it is a utopia by any stretch of imagination, poor countries may be able to deal with it, at least emotionally, better than the countries with advanced healthcare systems. Majority of the world is outside the Western hemisphere or the developed world. The standards of precaution in the developed world are impractical in the densely populated Third World.

We ignore the stark differences between the First World and the Third World at our peril.

Disclaimer

The view expressed in this essay is my own and not that of my employer. I do not antagonize any official or institutional decree regarding coronavirus.

References

[1]        The World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/.

[2]        World Health Organization. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. https://covid19.who.int/.

[3]        The World Bank – Mortality rate, infant (per 1,000 live births).  https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.IMRT.IN.

[4]        World Health Organization. The Global Health Observatory – Proportion of population below the international poverty line of US$1.90 per day (%). https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/GHO/proportion-of-population-below-the-international-poverty-line-of-us$1-90-per-day-(-).

Author : Jamshed Arslan, Pharm D, PhD

Jamshed Arslan

Pharm D (gold medalist); PhD (Neuropharmacology) Skilled in basic and clinical research and scientific writing with over a decade of teaching experience.

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