While India has done a lot better than the rest of the world, especially the developed world, I strongly feel that there is still room for improvement in how we deal with this enemy that we now understand a lot better.
We are a Tropical Young Colonial Third-world nation, and these four qualities demand that we develop our own policies that consider all of these four unique (and interconnected) qualities (some that offer an advantage while other a disadvantage) to optimize the success rate.
1. Tropical Vs. Temperate:
The climatic difference and the epigenetic role it plays in body profile of the population is probably The Most Ignore aspect of Indian policy-making and yet, it is The Blessing that has saved us from getting ravaged like the first world.
Though the horse has bolted from the above stable, in hindsight, India may have under-estimated this natural advantage of higher native immunity in policy-making and have applied too many breaks (to stop the epidemic) and accelerations (to kickstart economy).
The net result is, we may have started with an infectious but not so deadly a virus that could have run through the entire population rapidly and giving herd immunity, but we forced it to slow down and fight tooth and nail (as doctors prescribed huge amount of anti-viral drugs) leading to it evolving many more virulent and probably deadlier strains.
This demands that Indian policy-makers will now have to focus on strain-searching and purge the deadlier ones before that spread. We need more BSL IV labs working on gene sequencing with private sector participation.
2. Young Vs. Old:
Indian vaccine rollout that aped the western idea saving the old first was probably a strategic blunder that is second only to the public apathy for vaccination in ushering in the second wave.
We are now seeing the horror of the death numbers in under-35 year category hugely outstripping that in over-65 year category.
It is still not late to realign the vaccination program and focus on the young who are working and forced to get exposed. The old can be protected by stricter quarantine but the young must be vaccinated as soon as possible.
3. Colonial Vs. Democratic:
Indian policy-makers need to realize that the Indian state and Indian public are both still living under the colonial hangover of the state being an occupier/enforcer and Mai-Baap. The more rules that the state makes that infringe the superficial freedom the angrier people get, and yet people expect the state to do everything for them.
Armed with this mindset, Indian population is a very different policy-client as too many curbs (like what USA or UK has for those seeking treatment) lead to non-compliance. On the other hand, Indians are habituated to the state support in time of crisis and hence they will be more demanding and thus straining the infrastructure.
This needs to be countered by the policy-makers by using this epidemic as an opportunity to change the mindset.
We need to increase the public participation in fight against corona. Instead of government-will-lock-you-up-and-do-everything-on-its-own, this is the time to make the people India owners of the nation. As people will engage more, the more democratic the fight will become and easier it will be to administrate.
$. Third-world Vs. First-world:
As we are no longer happy to be identified as the Third-world, it is a bitter truth that we have tried ignoring till now in our policy-making, more so because of the proactive judiciary we have that is trained to think about the hypothetical than real.
We like to think that we are rich enough to have the kind of priorities that the First-world has, but the truth is, even the first-world had to make compromises (often extreme ones like “should I put an ninety year old on ventilator or let him die and shift the eighteen year on it?”).
We are living in an extraordinary situation and hence no state will be able to cover all the bases. We need completely objective, may be even roothless pragmatism in policy making.
If I sum up this into an executable request,
1. We need to vaccinate the young first and quarantine the old.
2. We need to priorities saving the young, even in the hospitals by ensuring that if one vial of a life-saving drug is available, the young must be considered first (also because ones they hit the cytokine stage, they are far more vulnerable).
3. We now need to accept that the virus has a free-run in rural India so we must study the phenomena carefully and be objective enough to consider using that as a natural vaccination program. It may sound brutal and inhuman but it may yield a better outcome of not leading to too many new strains.
4. We desperately need to open up the research for private sector and support it with building more BSL IV facilities where data is shared more openly with private researchers.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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