As the dust (or rather, the s***storm) settles on 2020 and I reflect back on the year, a quote by celebrated British author Charles Caleb Colton comes to mind -- “Constant success shows us but one side of the world; adversity brings out the reverse of the picture.” The pandemic has upended the world. Each country has had to grapple with it. Some appear to be faring better than others. Although the game is far from over, one thing has become apparent to me -- I’m glad to be living in India. And so is a Swiss friend of mine.
Mad or what? India has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world after the US. In contrast, Australia -- where I’m from -- is being lauded for containing the virus. However, it’s actually not as admirable as it seems. Australia is a sparsely populated island in the middle of nowhere that slammed its border shut and cut itself off from the rest of the world, including denying citizens abroad access to their own country. Residents are banned from leaving Australia, and more than 40,000 Australian nationals and permanent visa-holders are currently unable to return due to a weekly cap on the number of arrivals. The cap is in place because despite being 10 months into the pandemic, Australia hasn’t provided sufficient quarantine facilities to meet demand. Never mind that many of those people stranded abroad have no income and are separated from their families. Keeping the virus out of Australia at all costs is more of a priority than enabling people to come home. That’s not the country I know.
Meanwhile, in India, we’ve had to face the virus head on. And doing so has brought the greatest learnings. After the disturbing initial months of disarray, India has pulled itself together to defy dire predictions of deaths, despite lifting the lockdown. Indian doctors have accumulated impressive depth of knowledge about the infection, and are successfully using several early treatment protocols to keep people out of hospitals. On the other hand, in the US, the standard of care offers nothing until people are gasping for breath. The travesty is that Americans are only just waking up to the fact that early treatments exist. The drugs were either politicised or suppressed because there’s no money to be made from them, while the over-regulated medical profession waited on impossible ironclad evidence of effectiveness to materialise. Fatality rates, unfortunately, indicate the outcome of this.
Ivermectin is part of early treatment protocols in India. The irony is that an Australian professor pioneered the use of it, but it has been dismissed in Australia in favour of locking the door until a vaccine (hopefully) saves the day. Yet, ivermectin provides protection from the virus, too. It’s not insignificant that a study in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, found ivermectin prophylaxis reduced Covid-19 infection in frontline healthcare workers by 73%. Ivermectin isn’t approved in Switzerland, either. My Swiss friend tells me her mother hasn’t heard of it. Both my friend and I agree we prefer to be in a country where prevention and treatment of the virus is understood, and medications are routinely available if we get sick. (But hey, scientists say Mumbai is heading for herd immunity by January, so we’ve probably already been exposed to the virus. Reportedly, 70% of active cases in Mumbai are asymptomatic. My maid even has Covid-19 antibodies without being ill).
This year has delivered a lot of unexpected things. On the positive side, I certainly didn’t expect that, from experiencing the worst of times of the pandemic in India, I would feel more at home here than ever. What previously frustrated me about India’s disorganisation has revealed advantageous flexibility. As western countries pontificated against repurposing drugs, proactive Indian doctors chartered their own course -- finding what works and healing people, with amazing results. It’s commendable.