Covid-19 has changed me profoundly. Not just as a public health professional but also as a human being. Health is a complex subject, especially in India. If you can spell and say “Bouillabaisse” confidently without a kernel of insecurity, we can talk about it anytime you like. Anyway, that bastard Covid-19 made this personal for me and I swore upon everything I hold dear and holy that I will take the bastard down even if it killed me. Lol.
But seriously. It ruined linear-time for me. For more on what I mean by this, please watch the movie Arrival. Arrrgh…I have been running back and forth in time trying to understand what the Cephalopods are saying with a constipated expression quite like Amy Adams’s listening to Max Richter on the fly.
At the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic are partnerships built on trust. If people don’t get together to solve new problems like Covid-19, we don’t stand a chance as a species for what is coming at us: you know, drug-resistant microorganisms. The stuff that keeps my gut micro-bacteria up at night chattering in fright. Ugh. They have been insufferable since they found a way to communicate with me. Lol. Seriously, though, you should look up the gut, mind and body connection.
So, if health is important to you, please hear me out.
India’s economy started to be liberalised in the 1990s. The process unfolded at varied rates across sectors and industries. This process of “liberalisation”, or moving from controlled systems to flexible ones, was riddled with challenges. It was a glorious time for public-private partnerships, the buzzword of the 2000s.
In these partnerships there were many stakeholders such as NGOs. Over time, though, NGOs came to represent a nagging voice rather than a calm, constructive, critical voice. The NGO sector came under scrutiny. There was much schadenfreude in watching it all go down. Licences were cancelled or revoked. Stricter regulations went into place. Through this institutional carnage and times of uncertainty, people left to work in public-private spaces or private-private spaces. The lines dividing us became clearer and more defined over time, and it seemed for a while there was nothing that one could really do about it.
Then Covid-19 happened. Knowledge was summoned to solve this new problem. But how do you summon that which is lying around so fragmented? A lot of people giggled at the way the system responded to the problem. Please see the meme below to get a sense of how the system has struggled with math to get to the Covid-roof.
There was that damn schadenfreude again. In the words of that fascinating weirdo, Ma Anand Sheela, we said “Ha..tough titties”, and thought if they really wanted our opinion, they would come knocking. Umm..they didn’t. Because there’s no “they” or “them”. The health of the public has taken centre stage as it was always destined to. When I say “public”, I also mean other species besides humans. And before you roll your eyes and dismiss me as a vegetarian (which I’m not), my definition of “public” includes species such as the dead elephant and her baby in Kerala. It is time each one of us took responsibility for health. Health defined not just as an absence of disease but a state of wellbeing (this is how WHO defines it, look it up). The Covid-19 crisis is compelling us to come together for the most boring and unsexiest revolution of all time.
A revolution in the quality and nature of your personal and professional conversations. The ones you really dislike and with the people who give you a headache. For example:
That disease modeller who thinks you don’t know enough economics to understand his assumptions. Well, he can suck it, but someone has got to talk to that idiot and let him know that if he can’t explain his assumptions, then he does not know enough economics.
That head of department who is unable to see the patterns between Covid-19, blood clots, and male pattern baldness that you are seeing. You could maybe pool your voice with other people in the institution or outside, and get him to “see” by painting him a picture or something. (Pssst, talk to your peers at other medical institutions..there is a pattern and a lot of groups are seeing it.)
The RWA aunties and uncles who think Covid-19 can be banished by coordinated sound. You aren’t going to win this one, but you will learn a lot about sound in an artsy way that could help make sense of the science of sound in your own mind.
The vast public health community that has heard the term “mortality rate” but doesn’t know how it is measured and how the data is collected in India (let alone other countries). Send research articles, mute WhatsApp groups and pray for their souls.
Your mum and dad who think it is the Jamaat, Chai-ness peoples and Bill Gates that are behind Covid-19. This is a tough one. Step 1: Work on your childhood trauma. Step 2: Forgive parents because they didn’t know any better. Step 3: Train your parents on how to use WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Step 4: Use Pavlov’s techniques if all else fails.
It is your moral duty and obligation to listen to them. Not all day every day (your brains would explode) but every now and then, whenever you have the time and energy to really engage. Human beings communicate a lot through their stories with each other. Please see Darmok, Episode 2, Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation to really understand what I am saying here. They are saying something very very important to you. People closest to you are saying something very very important to you. Do not shut them down. You see, we are all special little snowflakes that weren’t loved as much as we would have liked to.
Experts in the sciences and arts need to look past the biases of their political systems, organizational systems, individual belief systems to come together to solve this crisis. Health is a complex subject. One conversation at a time. One bias at a time. If you have the knowledge to help your colleague, friend, garbage disposal person, and frankly even your worst foe to help solve the Covid-19 crisis, please do it. With kindness and respect. There is no one discussion table. The smallest discussion table is linked to the largest discussion table. So yea, the revolution is here. Woohoo! It’s calling on you to not be a bucket of douche.
Sagri Negi has been a public health specialist for over 10 years. She is currently engaging with the private health sector to solve chronic disease problems for an international non-profit which works on strengthening global health systems and preventing epidemics. Views expressed are personal.