Looking back at the year 2020 and into the first month of this year, I am flummoxed by the grim effects of the Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic on humanity. So much so that when I was prompted to write on the consequences of the pandemic, it became an emotional roller coaster that resulted in several abandonment of this article. Now, I see a silver lining that has encouraged me to make good this publication.
Currently, there are over 2 million confirmed mortalities and more than 96 million infections (as at January 20, 2021) with varying degrees of affectation in people infected globally. These figures may very well be underreported when we consider societies where health systems and data collection are lacking, particularly where the capacity for testing and managing the SARS-CoV-2 infection are grossly inadequate or nonexistent. The one thing to be grateful for when pondering on the fatalities from the infection is the number of mortalities in comparison to the number of infected persons. Still, this does not in any way make light of the loss of lives. Hence, the need for sober and critical reflections on what we missed and how the high transmission and death rates could have been avoided; bearing in mind the advances in medicine and public health, technology and communication. If only we had borrowed a leaf from previous pandemics and effectively adopted the preventive strategies of similar epidemics early enough. In addition, had we selfless and non-partisan leaders who prioritized the wellbeing of their citizens, there would have been lower infection and death rates.
This brings to mind, countries that did a good job in curtailing the spread of the infection very early in the first wave of the pandemic thus succeeding in grossly limiting infection and death rates. These countries did an excellent job by instituting and enforcing effective public health guidelines thereby saving their populace from morbidities, mortalities and bad economic outcomes. A case in point is Taiwan, where strict contact tracing, quarantine measures and compulsory use of facemask rules were promptly instituted and enforced. Taiwan with a population of 23.9 million people reported 7 deaths and 451 cases of covid-19 infection during the first wave. Many other countries in spite of advanced health systems have fallen way behind in comparison. This points to the fact that having advanced health systems isn’t enough to curtail pandemics. Leadership and governance of relevant institutions contribute significantly to success or failure when managing unprecedented situations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also brought about multiple unintended consequences that has gone on to affect the wellbeing of people. Some of which include inaccessibility to clinical management for persons with chronic or acute illnesses not related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus; conditions such as cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria to mention a few. Access to sexual reproductive health services, antenatal care, perinatal care and routine vaccination have all been affected during this pandemic. Leading to higher incidences of unintended pregnancies, poorly treated/untreated sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child morbidity/mortality and missed routine vaccinations amongst others.
Quarantine myopia is a term that has been used to describe the increasing rates of myopia particularly amongst children as a result of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown. This is unsurprising seeing that many more people now have to be in front of a screen for most times of the day for work, study or leisure – a habit that not only affects the eyes but posture as well. Quarantine myopia is leading many to being bespectacled just as it has in my household.
Globally, I in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime - most commonly perpetrated by an intimate partner. Since the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, the rate of gender-based violence and related deaths has since gone up. This unintended consequence is termed the shadow pandemic or the pandemic paradox.
Then, there is the economic recession that has led many countries, businesses and individuals to having jobs furloughed or lost and businesses downsized or closed. For many, the road out of economic recession may be a long and arduous one.
Thankfully, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom with the pandemic, many have been able to find a silver lining through it all. Positive things that have emerged include having to re-evaluate one's life and focus on more meaningful things, paying more attention to physical hygiene, having to maximise use of technology and readjusting to working and schooling from home and; leveraging the many advances in medicine and science to make safe and effective vaccines against the virus. Not forgetting the increase in use of technological devices to facilitate productivity and leisure while stuck at home. In addition, the earth got a breather from the reduction in greenhouse gas emission that has become a crucial issue for climate change.
Overall, I earnestly hope that the world has learnt a great deal from the devastation of COVID-19 and that the memory of hardship and pain the pandemic brought about for many will make us even more resilient and determined to ensure a better world for ourselves and the future generation of humans. I commend you for keeping yourself safe during this pandemic and I hope you continue to remain safe and mindful of your health and wellbeing. I encourage you to take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available to you - it offers the quickest path to achieving herd immunity and getting us out of the pandemic to hopefully, a more improved way of living. Indeed, health is our greatest wealth.
Dr. Anne Olowu is a Public Health Physician and Health Promotion expert with varied work experiences across Africa. She is the Lead Consultant at AnneAide Consulting and writes from Lagos, Nigeria.