By VICTORIA SARNE
If only there was a prescription to be had from a doctor for ingesting common sense, which seems in remarkably short supply if the current hysteria about the COVID-19 virus is anything to go by. It never ceases to amaze me in this day and age of instant information and access to facts – if we care to enquire – that so many people will avidly devour and take as gospel anything they see on social media with no further desire for verification.
Currently I am wondering why so few have given the same amount of attention to the factual information as they have given to media generated fear-mongering. I am quoting from an article recently sent to me by Dr Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist who has worked in inner-city communities as well as in Africa, treating patients with every communicable disease under the sun, from HIV/AIDS to hepatitis, TB, shingles, measles and diptheria.
He says: “I am not afraid of COVID-19. I am concerned about the implications of a virus that has spread the world and am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who stand to suffer most and disproportionately, the elderly, in frail health or the disenfranchised. What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others. I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they ‘probably don’t have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know...’ and that those with heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia and strokes will pay the price for overfilled ER waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess.”
I am no good at math and charts; statistics bore me, but sometimes they serve a valuable purpose, so let’s see what this looks like in very simple terms: the world has a population of 7.8 billion people – not counting babies being born as I write. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide are 81,259, of which 78,064 are in mainland China where it all began. The population of China (2017) was 1.268 billion. India, with, 1.339 billion has no reported cases. The United States (2017), a population with merely 325.7 million has 300 cases.
To put this even more in perspective: 2,770 people have died of the virus, and while this is a tragedy, compare it to those who have recovered wordwide – the number is 30,311. But the media doesn’t tell us this. We in the Bahamas, if we care to look, have been given this information by our Ministry of Health, yet we’d rather believe anything that appears on Facebook. Whatever happened to responsible reporting, whatever happened to our objectivity? Apparently, most of us are too lazy to look beyond the headlines or quick soundbite, preferring, it seems, to scare ourselves silly. Another verifiable fact which may put it in perspective: US government stats for 2018/19 influenza season – recorded deaths: 34,157.
Dr Sharkawy goes on to say: “I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested. COVID-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviours and ‘fight for yourself above all else’ attitude could prove disastrous.”
I agree with him. This kind of negative “role-modelling” is not what our young people need. They need to learn how to be resilient, how to think rationally, how to come up with solutions in times of crisis. But most of all they need to learn by our example how to be unselfish, how to care for others because we are all in this together. Our survival individually and collectively, socially and economically depends on this; on acting in the best interests of all.
It’s a natural reaction to be afraid, but temper fear and panic with reason. Educate yourself by searching out verifiable facts. In this particular instance, hygiene is important. We have all surely read by now the significance of hand washing and it doesn’t mean you have to stockpile Purell or any other hand sanitiser; good old-fashioned soap and warm water will do it, along with, what I hope, we all practice as part of our regular routine for well-being: staying hydrated, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, and taking our vitamin supplements. Oh yes, and that table-spoon of common sense three times a day!
• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at email@example.com, visit lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.