Nilanjan Banik :-
On last Saturday, India broke its own record, with a single day spike of 86432 new COVID-19 cases. This is the world’s highest single day increase in the number of coronavirus cases. Apparently, in terms of COVID-19 affected cases India is now the third most in the world, after USA and Brazil. Should we be worried? Well if one were to gauge sentiment in the street, everything seems to be returning back to normal. A day visit to any popular market in Shyambazar, Burrabazar, and Dum Dum will reflect level of business activities seen during the pre-COVID days. Even media is giving less attention. Tittle-tattle in national media channels are now hijacked by Rhea-Sushant case and a contraction in GDP number which landed like fists in one-two punch. There are reasons why people seem to care less about spread of COVID-19. This has to lower fatality rate and the higher recovery rate in India. The fatality rate is down to 1.8% whereas 77% of the affected people are getting recovered In fact, COVID-19 has lower fatality rate than Chikungunya. Except for the associated stigma of social isolation, in the new normal scenario, people are saying: COVID hoga, dekha jaiga. Now why is it that the fatality rate is low for COVID-19. When it comes to fatality rates, the virus seems to be benign for the following reasons.
Age Profile: India has a much younger population in comparison the developed countries. With an increase in age the severity of the disease goes up. Elderly people are co-morbid and more likely to suffer from other types of diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, cancer, and upper respiratory tract infection. For this group, chances of hospitalization and intensive care go up, leading to more deaths by the COVID-19. A report of 72314 cases that occurred in mainland China shows for the people aged between 70 and 79, the overall fatality rate increase from 2.3% to 8.0%. For the people above 80 years, the fatality rate was at 14.8%. Similarly, for Italy, for the people aged between 70 and 79, the fatality rate is 12.8%; whereas for the people above 80 years of age the fatality rate increases to 20.2%. In the US, according to a study undertaken by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elderly people suffering from other diseases like heart disease and diabetes are 12 times more likely to die and six times more likely to be hospitalised because of COVID-19 in comparison to the younger healthy populations. In fact, what we observe countries with a younger population base, like India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan, has the lowest fatality rate, worldwide.
Tropical Climate: Many of the tropical countries are economically poor. However, it seems weather god has come to the rescue. Most viruses exhibit seasonality, varying across geographic locations and across diseases. The Covid-19 virus is sensitive to high temperature and humidity. A study that analyzed the meteorological data for 166 countries revealed a negative relationship to both – temperature and relative humidity – on the daily number of new cases and new deaths resulting from COVID-19 could be associated with a 1°C increase in temperature. Similarly, relative humidity increasing by 1% was associated with a 0.85% reduction in daily new cases and a 0.51% reduction in daily new deaths. However, when temperature is below 3°C, the daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 increase by 4.861% for every 1°C fall in temperature. Cold and dry weather is favorable to virus survival. The reason why we may observe a higher mortality rate for the developed countries may be attributed to the temperate climatic condition characterized by cold and dry weather conditions.
Dietary habit, associated living condition, and health policy: Indian generally have a healthy dietary habit. Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India has issued guidelines for using Indian system of ayurvedic (traditional) medicines with antipyretic properties to be used as a general immunity booster. Ayurveda is a plant-based science. There is a believe that the phytocompounds present in herbs such as andrographis paniculata, vetiveria zizanioides, cymbopogon jwarancusa, ginger, cyperus rotundus, etc. can stop the virus from replicating and protect the body from COVID-19. The suggested guidelines for developing immunity, as issued by the Ministry of AYUSH, are based on the idea of practicing yoga and eating healthy diet. Likewise, a cleaner air quality may help to reduce the chance of getting affected by the COVID19. The research done in the US and in Italy suggests people living in polluted areas are more likely to die from COVID-19 than those living under cleaner environment. Moreover, unlike in the developed countries where people are used to working in a close office environment (with centralized air conditioning), majority of the people in India work outside, or under condition which do not require centralized air conditioning. The virus is more likely to spread under close office environment, wherein, if one person gets affected is more likely to affect others. A new found cleaner air-quality in India (thanks to lockdown) and absence of indoor office environment may have helped to develop immunity to fight COVID-19.
Health policy in India encourages universal vaccination for poor income cohorts. Few studies have commented on the effect of BCG vaccine in reducing respiratory infections. Lower incidence of Covid-19 related death among South Asian countries and other African countries, in comparison to their counterparts in North American and European continents, can be partially attributed to BCG vaccination policy. Countries with higher Covid-19 related death counts, such as USA, Canada, and Italy do not have universal BCG vaccination policy, whereas, United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Germany, earlier used to have a universal vaccination policy.
India’s Pharmaceutical Industry: India is the world’s third largest manufacturers of medicines (by volume) and has emerged as a major exporter of generic drugs in such areas as diabetes, anti-depressants, high blood pressure, epilepsy and even cancer, in part because the Indian government allows foreign multinationals to invest in India. Tie-ups between Indian domestic drug manufacturers and foreign multinationals Piramal Healthcare with Abbott Laboratories, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories with GlaxoSmithKline, Shantha Biotechnics with Sanofi-Aventis, and Biocon with Bristol-Myers Squibb have allowed India to move up the value chain, with formulations and packaging moving in here. In fact, pharmaceuticals are an important component of Indian trade with the African and South American continent, with India supplying 85% of all anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV in Africa. Like in the case with HIV, India is also a major manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine, the drug that is used to prevent and treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and now being used in India, Brazil, and the US as a preventive drug to fight against COVID-19.
A combination of these aforementioned factors may have come as a saviour for the Indian population. Truly we are blessed, or as the common man would say, Bhagwan Bharose.
(Nilanjan Banik is Professor at Bennett University, Greater Noida. He is also a Research Fellow with Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea; and Senior Fellow with Geneva Network, United Kingdom. He is author of the popular reference book titled: The Indian Economy: A Macroeconomic Perspective, SAGE. For more about him and his work, visit, www.nilanjanbanik.in).