Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Ignorance – II

Since last evening, the seven-day “lockdown-like” period began here. “Lockdown-like” because while it has all the connotations of a total lockdown, it is not as “locked” as last year. This lockdown has a lot of space for maneuver ~ indicating lives and livelihoods are now deemed equal and appear to be more of a downgrading of lives and upgrading of livelihoods. Also, at all cost, our Prime Minister’s instruction to States to avoid total lockdowns, except as a last recourse, must be honoured ~ after all face saving has always been several notches above lives and livelihoods. It may be noticed that what “the last recourse” is hasn’t been spelt out yet. The other aspect of this “lockdown-like” situation is that it underscores the failure of pandemic management at the national level ~ hence at the State levels. We were given to understand that India had emerged “victorious” of the COVID-19 scourge or at least at its “end-game”. So we let our guards down and forgot all about the “new normal”. Too much hope was also pinned on the vaccine, which remains unobtainable to majority of the people across the globe and in India ~ another example of the pandemic mismanagement. Experts and Scientists say that pandemics inevitably have several waves and ensuing waves are more virulent and ferocious but never having experienced pandemics, modern India’s power-that-be chose ignorance over knowledge, so consumed are they of their own power and hubris. It is learnt that the only authority to declare the beginning and end of pandemics is the World Health Organization (WHO) but we forgot that ~ or were ignorant of it. The appalling second wave of the pandemic in this country will decide which is worse ~ being ignorant or being unaware of being ignorant. The second wave of the pandemic in India also unambiguously indicates that nothing was learnt from the first wave ~ so when the second wave hit us since this March, the death toll rose tragically. The Union Ministry of Health records the daily infection and death tallies, so do the State Health Departments but none have revealed figures of how many COVID patients have died due to the virus and how many due to lack of access to hospitalization, oxygen and the required medicines. Despite media releases and statements by the powers-that-be, clearly our health infrastructure hasn’t seen much notable change. In Nagaland, the very fact that our State Government has thrown up a helpless hand by requisitioning private health facilities, including diagnostic labs, to house COVID patients speaks for the sorrier state of our health infrastructure. And, listing all kinds of statistics is one thing but the real-time, lived experience of COVID patients and their families is another. Our personal testimonies on confronting this deadly virus in our homes and hospitals speak of utter mismanagement of not only the pandemic but of health management and governance itself. This then also reflects how ill-equipped politicians and bureaucrats are to manage both public health and pandemics. So it is time to ask who is leading the pandemic management in Nagaland. While political inputs and bureaucratic support are vital for pandemic management, policy-making on pandemic management must be left to public health experts particularly Epidemiologists and Virologists ~ not to any Specialist of unrelated specialty. Specialists of any specialty may have studied the rudimentary of all specialties at the undergraduate level but their expertise doesn’t make them specialists of specialties other than their own. Health and medical Specialists are not bureaucrats, who become overnight experts of any Department they are posted to. We expect our Government to know that and act accordingly. So, are our public health experts particularly Epidemiologists and Virologists heading our COVID War Room and leading the war against COVID from the front? Or is our COVID War Room filled with politicians, bureaucrats and Health departmental ranks and hanger-ons ~ simply because of perceived governmental protocol and political expedience? Global pandemic Experts and Scientists have already warned of the third wave in India ~ Nagaland is certainly not ready. Knowing who to place in which position, and when, is a hallmark of genuine political leadership. Knowing when to take the backseat and allow Experts to lead is a hallmark of unimpeachable leadership. Ultimately, Nagaland’s rate of infection and deaths will decide these hallmarks of leadership. If not, we will have proved that ignorance and hubris has us in its vice-like grip ~ which is a pandemic by itself.