By Deepak Kapur
As the global fight against the deadly coronavirus continues into its second year, many countries are experiencing successive waves of mutating infections, and there is no clear indication that the pandemic will end anytime soon. In fact, India has surpassed more than 13 million cases to date, and in its second wave, is witnessing more than 1 lakh new cases daily.
So, in order to continue our fight against COVID-19 in India, we must commit for the long haul, just as Rotary and its Global Polio Eradication (GPEI) partners have remained committed to ending polio for more than 30 years.
We must remain focused on preventing new infections, immunizing the majority of the population to achieve herd immunity, and ensuring the infrastructure and resources for treatment are constantly at the ready. We must also dispel the myths and misinformation around the virus and its vaccines and strengthen tracking and testing across states to maintain momentum.
Embrace Vaccination and COVID-19- Appropriate Behaviours (CABs) Together
A combination of inappropriate COVID-19 behaviours as well as new virus strains in certain states has led to an overburdened healthcare system and an enormous spike in the incidence of infections and deaths in the second wave of COVID-19 in India.
A year of prolonged isolation combined with financial and emotional stressors has taken a toll on the people of this country. As coronavirus vaccinations began in January, many citizens believed that the vaccinations alone would be enough to defeat the disease, and they returned to pre-pandemic ways of living and stopped practicing social distancing and mask-wearing. However, India’s devastating second wave of infection proves that the pandemic is still very much around, posing an ongoing challenge.
So now, just as they did when India was affected by polio, Rotary, its GPEI partners, governments, NGOs, civil society organisations and healthcare experts must come together to help debunk myths and misinformation, and provide accurate and reliable information about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Furthermore, the importance of COVID-19 Appropriate Behaviours (CABs) such as social distancing, the use of face masks, proper hygiene and sanitation practices such as hand-washing must be reinforced, along with vaccinations, if we are to overcome the current wave of coronavirus infections and prevent new ones. We will leverage the Information, Education and Communication framework from India’s fight against polio, which dictates that information must be consistent, simple, and delivered on a continual basis in multiple languages, in order to educate citizens on ways to prevent COVID-19.
Meanwhile, people need to take ownership and recognize that a behavioural shift in the mindset is required to win the fight against the coronavirus. Guidelines and protocols need to be adopted and adhered to sustain in the long term. Similarly, there is an urgent need for Govt., non-profits, civil society organizations and private to collaborate and remove stigma and widespread reluctance around seeking help around resultant issues like mental health and domestic violence.
Strong Government Collaboration with Other Partner Organisations
With the understanding that the COVID-19 battle will likely continue in the years to come, the government needs to continue to allay the fears of the general public and work towards strengthening trust in and adoption of CABs and COVID-19 vaccinations.
One of the ways to do this is to revisit examples of how the government has previously worked with other partners (NGOs, nonprofits, etc.) to address and successfully overcome public health challenges.
One such example is how Rotary and its GPEI partners worked with the Indian government to end polio, in part, by building trust in the oral polio vaccine (OPV), by timely disseminating factual, credible, messaging and information among masses. Thanks to their collective efforts, India—as part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) South-East Asia Region—was certified polio-free seven years ago.
Now, Rotary members are putting their experience fighting polio to work as they sensitize communities about the importance of coronavirus vaccinations, and multiple Rotary clubs are proactively working with the government to help in vaccine rollout and delivery. Rotary clubs across Haryana, Kerala, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have set up free COVID-19 vaccination centres and are also leading other collaborative efforts with respective state governments. For example, the Rotary Club of Madras is working with the Tamil Nadu government to help support the procurement and delivery of coronavirus vaccines and related cold chain equipment.
Building Long-term Resilience
Ultimately, we need to approach the fight against the pandemic as we would respond to a natural disaster – by moving beyond management of the crisis to developing a long-term vision for resilience and recovery for years to come.
In that vein, we must apply the lessons learned from both polio and earlier stages of the pandemic to educate and inform the public every step of the way, to the best of our ability.
With ongoing collaboration among Rotary, governments, GPEI partners and other stakeholders, we will work to halt the spread of the coronavirus and help citizens recover their lives and livelihoods, just as we came together to eradicate polio in India.
(The author is Rotary’s National PolioPlus Chair for India and member of the India Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) on vaccines. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)