In times of crisis like this is when we realize the interdependency that we have on each other. A crisis of this nature calls for everyone to make a contribution and pull us out. While ‘C’ stands for the fear and wrath and negativity of Coronavirus, ‘C’ also stands for many positive things needed including collaboration, consolidation, and compliance.
COVID-19 is a crisis that starts with its linkage to the healthcare system but is not restricted there. It has impacted the economy, the financial markets, the socio-political environment without sparing the rich or the famous. There have been some positives such as the rapid advancements in telemedicine, a work-from-home culture but most of the environment remains bleak. This, therefore, calls for a strongly concerted effort towards collaboration.
While doctors and the medical front-line professionals are undoubtedly giving their best in managing patients, there is more than they can do on several fronts. The misinformation floating around can be adequately countered by experienced medial professionals sharing their real-life experiences. This information needs to come in the form of sharing their experiences, symptoms, disease management tips, and such with the layman for a better understanding of the severity of the situation and actions to be taken. They need to share co-morbidities, and the value of testing results in their treatment modalities which will all help the broader communities. The common man needs to know when he should stay at home and when he should go to the hospital. The world needs more front-line doctors speaking up than “social media doctors”, spreading the advice they learned on social media universities.
Those working in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology areas have a lot to offer. While COVID-19 death numbers are tiny in comparison to previous pandemics (granted we don’t know when this one will end), the world is disappointed as they expected more from modern medicine. Building on the clinical inputs from doctors, scientists, virologists, microbiologists, bio-informaticists, and the diverse diaspora of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology ecosystem need to spend their time designing new drugs, repurposing old drugs, reformulating existing drugs, and developing vaccines and diagnostic tests that can find and conquer this virus harboring within the citizens of the world. Important contributions from this industry can come from making realistic claims such that, when a claim is made of a drug or a vaccine that works, it actually does. They need to help the common man interpret “early results” as a community and not confuse by challenging claims from “trials”. Similarly, when a diagnostic test is claimed to be functional it actually performs. These actions need to be backed by increased global funding towards basic research and product development, not like the mere $4 billion provided in 2018. This is the time for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry to build confidence in the world that they produce solutions and save lives.
The policymakers need to step up, make rapid decisions, and communicate them clearly. The basis of decision making when communicated will help build confidence among the government and the policymakers. There is a lot to learn about disease evolution and continuous availability of new information will lead to revisiting decisions finding new avenues to solve problems, reaching out to the citizens, and seeking their support. All of this is possible through transparent communication and sharing the basis of decision making. Policies to ease the financial losses being faced need to be targeted not just for the small businesses, but to the small and large industries that are all going through an upheaval neither imagined nor faced by this generation. Further, the communication of the usage of donation-based relief funds to the people would also help citizens feel more secure in their safety. Communicating on what to expect, what to do, during a lockdown is just as important as what is the objective of the lockdown. Is the lockdown to achieve a doubling time of 10 days or 12 days – is a much better way to get compliance with the lockdown restrictions, as opposed to simply announcing a lockdown and asking people to stay at home, not knowing how and when I can get food or see my family or that they are served. Communicating on the readiness of treatment facilities and the availability of essential goods should be left to the local governments. Furthermore, governments should follow scientific advice from experts and support huge amounts of data collection by testing at large. They need to provide guidance and support for stockpiling potential treatments and vaccines to reduce the time required to get supplies once positive performance of these is confirmed.
Despite the widespread presence and use of social media, traditional media can make a good situation bad and a bad situation worse. All the information the media produces should come with a high degree of authenticity and minimal dramatization and not leave the average person to sift through the information looking for impact on him or her. Dwelling on a one-off makes good news but does not calm nerves. Verifying data sources may take away from the time factor of breaking news, but builds long term credibility and leads to informed decision making and consequently positive and beneficial actions. What is the point of asking people to head to the railway station when indeed there is no decision yet on how to tackle the mass movement and transit through one railway station? How many times have we seen, in the last few weeks, an item still under discussion by the cabinet, such as lockdown extensions, but published by the media in a way ending up being interpreted as a confirmed decision? How many times, in the last few weeks, has the media claimed success of a treatment or a vaccine, yet today the world is still grappling on straws in hope of a cure? Media personnel needs to work in an unbiased manner and produce complete stories to fulfill their requirements as the fourth pillar rather than half-baked, half-cooked, confusing, and polarizing news.
The youth of the country, who have been stuck at home, can put this time to great use by building channels for the flow of authentic information. Taking real pieces of authentic information and evidence and turning it into simple to understand educational material for the 1.3 billion people of India, will dramatically improve India’s approach to physical distancing, avoiding overcrowding for essential supplies, preparing channels for communication of government resources being made available such as treatment centers, a much better understanding of signs and symptoms and what actions to take during early vs advanced symptoms. Building easy to use tools and taking authentic content with a single aim of educating India in a move that would reach every able mind would be a great use of young India talent.
India has no dearth of scientific credibility that is recognized by Indians in leading positions all over the world, but now is the time for the Indian talent in India and everywhere to stand up and do their part. The IITs and CSIR institutions have extended collaborations with the industry to build a completely new approach for testing and new approaches for finding cure and vaccines. This is the time to stop considering an academic institution as bureaucratic and slow just as much as industry can be accused of being profit-focused. This is the time to collaborate, share scientist skills and techniques across labs, and create open-sourced collaboration platforms.
Households need to start thinking about the amount of information coming their way and how much they are actually following up on in terms of their behavior. This goes to tips around cleaning materials coming into the house from the outside, avoiding unnecessary trips outside the house, maintaining social distances in their communities, not venturing out at unusual hours to meet friends and family, reassuring their help of secured jobs while educating them on the new normal that they need to live with. Households need to avoid becoming a contained zone as opposed to wondering how they will manage when they do become a contained zone. This is time for each micro-community to learn to accept and receive CoronaWarriors (the frontliners fighting the disease or the ones that successfully fought the disease).
While India has been developing talents in cooking, cleaning, video conferencing, it is now time to shift gears moving towards learning, educating, implementing the right lifestyle and behaviors, making a commitment to 100% compliance to the required norms and to asking what more can they do so that a country of 1.3 billion can make its limited resources available for the most vulnerable. We can only fight this war by doing our part, every time, all the time through strong collaboration, consolidation of resources, and compliance with the guidelines.