New Delhi: The number of daily coronavirus cases now in India is less than 12,000. Several experts maintain that this pattern will be consistent, however, the possibility of another wave cannot be ruled out. Globally, a lot of predictions were made regarding the Covid situation in the country and it was presumed that the condition is going to worsen. In May last year, a modelling study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) predicted 2.87 lakh coronavirus cases in India per day by the end of winter 2021 in the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine or drug intervention. The government had heavily criticized the study and stated the lacuna of many mathematical models is that they just focus on how the virus would behave and not take into account other parameters.
A lot of other modelling predictions about the country’s Covid situation were also proven unreliable. In March last year, a prediction by an international team of scientists, including from the Johns Hopkins University, was that India could face between 1 lakh to 13 lakh confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus by mid-May, provided the trend in the growing number of Covid-19 cases continued. According to reports, Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR, had also stated that none of the mathematical models has correctly predicted the course of the virus spread so far.
A similar pattern of assumptions was made about the Covid situation in Africa. After the number of cases started rising across the globe, due to under-funded health systems and existing infectious and non-infectious diseases, it was assumed that the continent would be “ravaged” by the pandemic. In an 10 April interview with CNN, American philanthropist Melinda Gates expressed her belief that the coronavirus pandemic will have the worst impact in the developing world. She said she foresees “bodies lying around in the streets of African countries”.
But it didn’t happen. On 29 September, the world passed the one million reported deaths mark. On the same day, the count for Africa was a cumulative total of 35,954. Many African countries have a long experience in dealing with infectious diseases and by now have developed the knowledge that many Western countries might not have.
Jagdish Khubchandani, Professor of Public Health at New Mexico State University, told The Sunday Guardian: “We certainly underestimated the will of people and politicians in Africa and Asia to the extent that I think the West needs to look East to take lessons on pandemic preparedness and global health security. Many factors worked in favour of countries in Asia and Africa that did well: less socio-political divide compared to the US, political will, innovative measures for health and information dissemination despite low resource settings, experience with infectious diseases, etc. The reputation that India and many countries in Africa are labelled as lower-income or LMIC which automatically meant poor public health systems, large population with little income and education or awareness, shortage of products and providers in the field of healthcare, lower investment in healthcare technology, devices, and R&D, corruption and incompetence at various levels of policymaking and in healthcare systems.”
African governments understand that their most effective strategy in the battle against Covid-19 is prevention and applying lessons learned from previous and/or ongoing outbreaks. Khubchandani also said that prior experiences with epidemics like Ebola in Africa and dengue and chikungunya in India had taught key lessons. Innovations and investments were rising in low and middle-income countries that helped deal with many challenges, including material deprivation like masks. We also witnessed technology that rapidly proliferated and political will—we observed less political division over the pandemic in Africa and India compared to the USA, he said.
Just like India, health experts point to Africa’s youthful population as a factor in why Covid-19 hasn’t taken a larger toll, along with swift lockdowns and the late arrival of the virus than in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Dr Shiba Kalyan Biswal, Consultant, Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, Narayana Hospital, Gurugram, told The Sunday Guardian: “With the sudden outbreak of Covid, it was challenging even for developed countries. As far as the countries like India and Africa are concerned the same challenges are meant to be quite bigger. As far as India is concerned, we have dealt with the situation with so much patience as things take time to get settled, and over it, the fact is we are living in a pandemic and the risk is not over yet. We have not handled it entirely yet, but yes, we are handling it with the required patience and recourses in hand. The existing scenario of any country matters when it comes to fighting against the sudden outbreaks of any disease. Being a developing country, such challenges are bigger. We had to work at every level, as mentioned earlier, the first lockdown was imposed, then wearing a mask in public places was made compulsory, social distancing is ensured at public places by the administration. Along with treating patients now, our healthcare workers are working with vaccine drive. Step by step, we are fighting this battle and we hope soon we will win.”
Last month, a South African variant of Covid-19 was reported, and according to reports, it is likely to be more transmissible, may hit young people harder, and may be slightly more resistant to vaccines.