By Matin Royeen
On December 31, 2019, China reported a pneumonia of unknown origin in the City of Wuhan to the World Health Organization (WHO). After analyzing the case, WHO declared this outbreak as a global public health emergency on January 30, 2019.
In the past three months, world community has been struck by this insidious invisible enemy with devastating impact on the health, economic well-being, social welfare and psychological health of people all over the world. Political leaders, health organizations and health professionals and as well as health facilities are overwhelmed with the magnitude and uncertainty dealing with this global health pandemic. The outbreak of this virus, which caught the world community by surprise, has disrupted every aspect of human life. So far, close to 1.3 million people have been diagnosed with this virus that has claimed close to 71,000 lives around the world. Unfortunately, these numbers are increasing minute by minute and the forecast looks very dire in the absence of any vaccine and with the unprecedented speed it is affecting people.
I would like to share some information about the mayhem this virus has created in the United States, which is considered a superpower. There is a great deal of panic, fear and feeling of helplessness regarding the outbreak of this virus among health professionals, first responders and the public. Initially, it was difficult for people to get tested for the virus and even those tested, had to wait for one week to get the results. In the meantime, these individuals were forced to live in social isolation by quarantining themselves in their homes. Ninety six percent of Americans are now under stay at home order. Those who must venture out should follow the six feet physical distance from other people because this virus travels such a distance when discharged. Originally, it was believed this virus is transmitted through coughing/sneezing. Most recent information reveals the transmission can take place through the mouth by breathing and speaking.
Hospitals and health facilities are preparing for the worse scenario by converting some facilities to make-shift hospitals in preparation for the surge. New York City has suffered almost half of the over 9,600 deaths in the United States. A Navy hospital ship was dispatched to New York City in order to ease the burden. This ship has the capacity for 1000 beds with ten operating rooms. Another big facility (The Javits Convention Center) with capacity of 2,500 beds has been converted to a health facility in New York City. According to the Governor of New York State, China is helping with facilitation of 1,000 ventilators to meet the need. A paramedic in New York City stated. “New York City is a war zone and I am terrified.” According to the sentiments of an emergency room physician working in a hospital in New York City echoes the feeling of many health professionals fighting this plague: We need prayers, we need support, we need more facilities to help the sick, we need protective equipment, we are trying to save other lives while trying to save our own, we are in a medical war zone, this virus is killing a lot of people regardless of age, status, economics, ethnicity, we need psychosocial support; I am worried about my own safety, about the safety of my family and worried about my colleague’s safety. Please stay at home and help us to help you.”
The health system in United States is strained and some health professionals have been working without Personal Protective Equipment (gown, mask, gloves). Unfortunately, even some health professionals have lost their lives. Overall, there is a tremendous need for ventilators to save lives of those with this virus in the United States. Another Navy ship has been dispatched to California to provide more space for patients. In my city of Chicago in the State of Illinois, a huge convention center called the McCormick Place is being converted to a hospital in preparation for the surge.
If the United States as a superpower is experiencing these challenges, I cannot imagine the extent of the chaos this virus has created in other countries. Regardless of the status of any country, this virus is having/will have a profound impact on humanity. Unfortunately, the damaging effects of this virus will be felt for a long time by the entire global community for years to come after this calamity ends. I would like to discuss the horrible and immeasurable damage of this virus on four spheres of life.
Health of people: So far, almost 1.3 million people have tested positive for this virus, which has claimed over 71,000 human lives. These numbers will continue to grow. The unfortunate suffering of those having this virus in isolation and the tragedy of those losing their loved ones under these extraordinary circumstances is heartbreaking. Being able to hold the hand of the loved one, saying their rituals, prayers and goodbyes in loving ways during the last moments of life is deeply imbedded in the human network of every culture. Making the necessary funeral arrangements and remembering the passing of the loved one puts a final closure with a cathartic impact on the family and friends. This virus has taken away meaningful, symbolic dimensions that are necessary during defining moments of life and death. This virus has deprived us from practicing the compassionate care to our loved ones during their suffering. It has robbed our humanity beyond our control.
Economic damage: According to the Asian development Bank, the cost of the Corona-Virus pandemic to the global community will range between 2 to 4.1 trillion US dollars. This virus has forced closure of shops, businesses, restaurants, factories, airline and tourism industry, hotels, schools, and universities causing millions of people to lose their employment in different countries. The cost of health intervention has bankrupted the system and large businesses have become paralyzed. In many countries, small businesses have been the backbone of support for the employees and their families. In most developing countries, their governments do not have the necessary resources to help the unemployed. I cannot imagine the magnitude of financial hardship this virus has created on people all over the world. In the United States, this virus may cause up to 30 percent unemployment. The United States Congress passed a 6.2 trillion-dollar aid package in order to keep the economy running. This is only a temporary measure, which may only last for 3-4 months and there may be a need for more help by the government for big and small businesses after that period.
Social Isolation: We are very social beings and cannot live in isolation for long periods of time. We need the company of family members, friends and colleagues at work. Despite our adaptability, we are creatures of habits and routines which keep us engaged in activities of daily living such as work, leisure and rest. Any break in daily human routines creates stress on the human system. Even walking outdoors and maintaining six feet distance from others is difficult and so abnormal. Working from home, using computers and phones without real face-to-face human interaction is strange and unnatural. The CoronaVirus has taken away the essence of our humanity by confining ourselves as prisoners in our own quarters. The undue stress on the parents, children and even extended family members living under one roof is daunting and creates disharmony and conflicts at home.
The psychological/emotional effect: Loss of life, fear of death, concern for the welfare of loved ones, lack of adequate health services, loss of income and jobs, living in social isolation for a long time, and uncertainty about the future have traumatic psychological and emotional impact on mental health of people around the world. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and the breakup of a normal/cultural life pattern of routines have already created a great deal of stress on the will and psyche of people. The overall emotional toll on humanity is going to be profound.
Time for reflection and introspection: My country of residence for the last fifty years, the United States is a great country with incredible resources to deal with adversity. The rage of the coronavirus and the extent of damage it has caused is unprecedented in the last one hundred years of life on earth. National leaders in the United States are struggling to prepare for the worst-case scenario dealing with the unpredictability of this pandemic. Similarly, other western and non-western countries are trying to keep their heads above water from drowning. This calamity has challenged the core of our existence and humanism. It is time for nations and leaders alike to think about the true meaning of the gift of life that has become obfuscated with greed, hunger for power and violence in many different forms such as wars, terrorism, hunger, poverty, discrimination and cultural conflicts. Conceivably, this catastrophe, as bad as it is, reminds us to go back to our foundation of human values that make us unique. Perhaps, this is a strong message for humanity to uphold the value of love over hate, to concentrate on human need over greed and cherish the moment of peace on micro, mezzo and macro levels.
In my native homeland of Afghanistan, the noble people have suffered a great deal from violence for the past forty-two years. This killer virus is another burden on the leaders, government and ordinary people that could have catastrophic consequence. My grave concern is that Afghanistan has only 300 ventilators in the entire country.
This adversity has opened a window of opportunity for political leaders Drs. Ghani and Abdullah to solve their conflict for the sake of a suffering nation. After all, both will be judged by history, which will be written by the Afghan people. It is up to the two sons of the Afghan nation to decide on which side of history their legacy will belong.
Matin Royeen Ph.D. is an Afghan American educator on Diversity and Peace Education. He can be reached at: [email protected]