New Delhi: The Year 2020 will go down as the year of the worst pandemic to hit the world in 100 years, afterall over 17.74 lakh people have died due to COVID-19 worldwide. The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that first emerged a year ago in Wuhan, China, has spared no place in the world. The frontline workers and healthcare professionals emerged as super-heroes in this fight against the coronavirus. Another life saviour in this crisis been has handwashing and overall focus on social distancing, overall hygiene and sanitation. Here are some vital lessons about health and sanitation which experts recommend must be carried forward to 2021.
Hand Hygiene- An Old Lesson New Relevance
If an age-old practice came in handy during the COVID-19 crisis, it was the importance of hand hygiene. For years, efforts have been made to promote handwashing as an essential habit to prevent diseases caused by germs and viruses. Yet, a lot of people did not take handwashing seriously. However, the coronavirus outbreak once again underlined the importance of how this simple step can go a long way in saving lives. According to Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Public Health Foundation Of India (PHFI),
We have all been taught to wash our hands every time we return from outside, before eating food and after using the toilet. Yet, if we see the upward graph of soap sales, it was this year. It was as if we were discovering the value of washing hands for the first time. This habit will help for a long time if we continue it even in the New Year and years to come. It will help prevent many more diseases other than COVID-19.
‘Hygiene’ Cannot Be Limited To Handwashing
Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical, a healthcare brand that focuses on providing home quarantine solutions said that in the year 2020, people have adopted ‘hygiene’ in many more ways than hand hygiene. He highlighted that people have now started paying attention to respiratory hygiene, nasal and oral hygiene, food hygiene, air hygiene, and surface hygiene. He said that while coronavirus has caused havoc globally, the only good thing is that it has taught people the significance of sanitation and safe waste disposal along with hygienic living.
According to Dr. K K Aggarwal, President of the Confederation of Medical Association of Asia and Oceania (CMAAO) and Former President, Indian Medical Association (IMA), because people are increasingly adopting a more hygienic lifestyle and better sanitation, diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice cases will reduce in the country. He said,
I believe we can now dream of India becoming free from diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice. These diseases are food and water-borne but focus on sanitation has increased among people tremendously this year. If people continue to follow proper hygiene and sanitation, it will be interesting to see how it will impact these diseases in the coming years. We have already started observing a downward trend in the death caused due to these diseases. During our visits to mortuaries and crematoriums, we see that among non-COVID death, diseases like Tuberculosis, diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice are reducing as the cause. A comprehensive data on this, when it will come, will provide a more accurate and wider picture.
He further said that diseases like Tuberculosis, flu and other respiratory disorders can be reduced significantly if people continue to follow respiratory hygiene. He asserted,
Continue the habit of wearing masks when out. Always sneeze or cough into a napkin or in the folded elbow. Also remember to maintain a physical distance of at least three feet from people who are coughing, sneezing or talking loudly or singing.
He added that this year has reminded us that food needs to be cleaned and sanitised properly before cooking and consuming it. This will help fight food-poisoning which widely prevalent in the country. This habit will also help fight the food-related allergies caused due to pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilisers, he said.
Nutrition Is Significant For Boosting Immunity
The importance of having a strong immune system gained prominence this year, said Dr. Jagmeet Madan, President, Indian Dietetic Association. She said that when it comes to the immune system, one thing that COVID-19 has taught us is that while we may not have control over factors like age and genes, we can definitely boost immunity by controlling our lifestyle choices, nutrition intake, sleep, rest and physical activity.
This year, people tried increasing the intake of immunity boosters like turmeric, ‘kadhas’, and simple herbal teas in their diet, she said. Dr. Madan added,
A well-balanced diet comprising all major food groups, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables must become a lifestyle for people now.
Prioritise Food Security
One of the lessons in 2020 for the government, according to Basanta Kumar Kar, International Development Professional and Recipient of the Global Nutrition Leadership Award is prioritising food security. He said that the country’s food security programme had proved to be a lifeline in the uncertain time of crisis. He said that the pandemic has shed light on the inequality of access to basic resources among people in the society and so food security for each person should be proritised and strengthened. He emphasised on making people self-sufficient and self-reliant in food production and said that the governments must continue promoting locally produced foods and kitchen gardens.
Mental Health Is Just As Important As Physical Health
Shumita Kakkar, Founder and Director of United We Care, a startup focused on counselling people battling mental health issues said that by following strict stay-at-home orders/recommendations and working from home, people may have protected themselves from the coronavirus but in doing so, many individuals felt extremely lonely, longed to participate in their communities, lost their jobs, or were unable to continue their studies. She said,
While COVID-19 acted as a cause of mental health problems in the year 2020 to a large extent, it also brought ‘mental health’ to the mainstream. People now talk about the mental health issues and the stigma around it is breaking away. They have started understanding that mental health is as important as physical health.
Strengthening Public Healthcare Is The Need Of The Hour
Dr Ravi Mohanka, Chief Surgeon and Head of Department, Liver Transplant and HPB Surgery, Global Hospital, Mumbai highlighted that the year 2020 engulfed the world suddenly and doctors, hospitals, government were unprepared and were soon overwhelmed. While, they rose to the occasion, reorganized themselves, redirected resources and served patients in need, sometimes at the cost of the ultimate sacrifice, of their own lives, it is high time that governments recognise the importance of investing more in public healthcare system in the country. Dr Mohanka added,
2020 was a significant one in terms of medical learnings. The planned surgeries had to be postponed, but emergency care, such as life-saving transplants continued. The country became self-sufficient in making ventilators, PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment), medicines and vaccines. But this is not enough. We have to build a better healthcare system to manage future outbreaks in a better way and prevent deaths.
He further added that medical capacities have usually been taken for granted but 2020 has taught that even the richest of nations are limited in their capacity to treat people if there is a large outbreak of a disease. He said that investments are required right from equipping healthcare system with the right tools to increasing the number of people involved in the sector.
Embrace Teleconsultations And Use of Technologies
According to Dr Mohanka, the country embraced technology this year like never before. He said,
This year we as healthcare providers learnt the importance of technology and teleconsultations to continue taking care of our patients. It provides a safe interactive system between patients, both infected and uninfected, and clinicians. National and international medical organisations should consider its inclusion in their guidelines updates.
Partnership Among Countries Can Help Fight Health Crisis
Dr. Mohanka highlighted that one of the major takeaways from 2020 is that anything can be achieved with global partnerships. He said,
The researchers were able to make promising vaccines within one year, which typically takes at least 10 years, against a virus we didn’t even know existed one year ago. It is a huge achievement and this became possible only because of global partnerships and exchange of technologies.
Health And Environment Are Intimately Linked
According to environmentalist Dr. Rajendra Singh, also known as the Waterman of India, one lesson from 2020 that is staring the humanity in the face is the fact that human beings live well beyond natural boundaries. He said,
We have been constantly talking about this and even a number of scientists and researchers have highlighted that the health of human beings is intimately linked with the environment. But the governments around the world, corporates and people continue to ignore. COVID-19 was a result of this negligence.
He also added that with reduced human activities and interference with nature during the strict lockdown, there was a rapid return of clear blue skies, fresh air, and clean water rivers; the chirping of birds, the arrival of dolphins in coastal regions, and even rapid healing of the ozone layer. He said that the year has re-established that human beings are messing the environment up very badly. Dr Singh said,
If we continue living unsustainably post COVID-19, there will be many more deadly pandemics in the future which we will not be able to prevent.
Stay Away From Misinformation And Myths
Another important lesson from 2020 which should become a habit for life is researching before believing, said Dr. Tanaya Narendra, Sexual and Reproductive Health Expert, Pee Safe, a personal hygiene brand. She said,
In 2020, we saw some extremely weird information spreading fast among people like warm weather will stop the pandemic, eating garlic will prevent infection, spraying alcohol can kill coronavirus, if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds then you don’t have COVID-19 and what not! While these rumours sound funny, these are very dangerous as people get misled into taking wrong decisions. So always do your research before believing anything you receive via social media or any other source and reach out to professionals when in doubt.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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