Tag Archives: sanitizer

Dharavi slum in Mumbai

India’s Low COVID Death Rate Is Puzzling

Though the COVID-19 crisis hit India hard – over 9 million cases have been reported and more than 138 thousand people have died  – the mortality rate from COVID-19 is inexplicably lower compared to other countries.

For instance, while the US leads the world with more than 14 million cases and over 276 thousand deaths, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, India accounts for only 10% of deaths globally and has the highest number of recovered patients of COVID-19 at 94%, even though its coronavirus caseload is second only to the US.

With such a significant share of the world’s coronavirus cases, shouldn’t COVID-19 have been more devastating in India?

Krishnaraj Rao

“Then again it has not,” announced Krishnaraj Rao, an investigative journalist from Mumbai, India, at an EMS briefing (November 20) on the pandemic.

“Something strange has been happening within the Indian subcontinent and neighboring regions,” said Rao. “For some strange reason our mortality rate per million is one eighth and our total cases seem to be in the region of one sixth per million.”

As COVID-19 began its inexorable spread across the world, the WHO recommended safety precautions to protect against the virus – physical distancing, wearing a mask, well ventilated rooms, avoiding crowds and close contact, and regularly washing hands.

But in an outcome that has puzzled epidemiologists and scientists alike, India seems to be experiencing a low mortality rate from the coronavirus, stated Rao, despite the crowded conditions in which many urban Indians live.

A large proportion of urban dwellers in a developing country like India lack access to adequate healthcare facilities and maintain poorer sanitation and hygiene practices which are known to be responsible for a higher incidence of communicable diseases.  So the virus was expected to have caused many more deaths in densely populated communities in India than it has.

Urban Indians are ‘badly housed,’ explained Rao, using Mumbai as an example to explain why crowded Indian cities offer a fertile petri-dish for catastrophic coronavirus outbreaks.  “I would say that close to 60% of the population of urban India lives closely packed together in slums.”

In a metropolis like Mumbai, home to over 20 million and India’s largest city, nearly one million people live cheek by jowl in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums.

“Houses are no more than two feet apart. Each house is no larger than a 10 by 12 room,” said Rao.

Each home houses about 10 to 12 people, closely packed together. It makes social distancing nearly impossible, while access to basic hygiene essentials, including toilets and hand washing are limited.

“There is only one public toilet per every two or three hundred slum dwellers,” explained Rao, highlighting the less than hygienic conditions in slums like Dharavi. “Face masks, social distancing…are close to non-existent. We take things like face masks, temperature checks and sanitizing very lightly,” he claimed.

“If it were a pandemic that was ravaging us because of a lack of social distancing,” asked Rao, why are the slums relatively less impacted than expected? And, despite overcrowding on the suburban railways, he adds, “the crisis has hit us less hard than anticipated.”

While epidemiologists attribute India’s low mortality rate to under-reporting, and even though Rao himself expected undercounting, he alleged that at least in Dharavi, there is no evidence of it. “I don’t see the bodies piling up in the streets… or the hospitals,”  nor has he noted any alarming rises in the body count.

Rao claimed he is voicing “a mainstream belief” felt across economic classes and demographics in India, that the coronavirus is not causing the high mortality rates that were anticipated.

In Dharavi, officials say that concerted public health efforts to trace, track, test and treat cases, have helped to contain community spread.

Now, recent research by Indian scientists seeking to explain why India’s death rate is so low, suggest that more Indians may be immune to COVID-19 because they live in unsanitary conditions which have created an unexpected shield from the virus.

According to one study, more than 70 percent of all COVID–19 deaths have occurred in high income countries like Italy, Spain, UK, France and USA. It hypothesized that more people died in richer countries with older populations, because better hygiene and safe sanitation practices lowered levels of immunity and made people more susceptible to the virus.

In another study scientists report, “It appears that countries with better health care, clean environment, clean food and water have higher COVID associated mortality, whereas developing and underdeveloped countries have lower mortality in terms of deaths per million population.”

Both research studies (not yet peer reviewed), suggest that in low GDP countries like India, lives of people in densely populated areas may have been saved because of poor hygiene and sanitation practices.  Unsanitary conditions and exposure to diseases from childhood may have increased their ability to ward off infections, and boosted immunity against COVID-19. Experts also suggest that the early lockdown and a younger population helped stave off a higher death toll in India.

The science is intriguing. Does greater exposure to a variety of viruses in the slums of low income countries provide a better level of protection against the coronavirus, than the overly sanitized environments of richer nations?

“Paradoxically, better sanitation leads to poor immune training and thus could be leading to higher deaths per million,” says the study. But it cautions that while the research offers a possible explanation, poor hygiene is not a solution to the pandemic.

India, and Dharavi in particular, may have pulled off a remarkable reprieve against COVID-19 for now. But the pandemic is far from over and science is still learning about this young virus. So, public health experts warn, SMS (social distance, mask, and sanitize) must remain the global mantra to keep Covid 19 at bay, until vaccines become easily available to the general public.


Meera Kymal is the contributing editor at India Currents.

photo credit: Baron Reznik

The New Neurotic Normal

COVID and the daughter’s boyfriend

It’s been a few months now since COVID moved into our neighborhoods and made itself comfortable.  If COVID could be a person, it would be the tattooed, lip-pierced boyfriend your daughter introduced you to months ago, and you commented privately on the ridiculously stiff and spiky black corona of hair where the part on his head should be. And you prayed that he would be passing through, like others before him, gone by summer, incinerated by warmer weather, poof!

Summer rolls around and the spiked Corona is still around, lounging on your sofa, scarfing up your snacks, and moving his toothbrush and hand sanitizer into the spare bedroom. He’s now metastasized into a fiancée, who has been kicked out of his apartment (all of Europe and the Far East and China) and needs a place to stay—the good old USA.

COVID evokes the same feelings as the daughter’s scruffy, disruptive boyfriend turned fiancée, who isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. (There’s also a distant possibility of him murdering everyone and decamping with the family silver in the middle of the night, a scenario which keeps you on high alert, all the time.)

So, what is our “new normal” now that COVID isn’t going anywhere? It’s getting neurotic.

The Sneeze at the Grocery Story

I was at a grocery store when I felt a tickle in my nose under the surgical mask.  To my horror, it was a sneeze, pushing its way out through my nostrils with a final contraction designed to eject the snot baby into the atmosphere. I didn’t have time to think before I went ‘Achooo!’

When I looked up, I was alone in the aisle.  The two people near me had dive-bombed to the floor and were crawling towards the exit.  An assistant came running and shouted at me from a great distance, as if I were at the end of a long tunnel. Are you sick, Maam?

“I’m fine,” I mumbled and slunk, full of shame, out of the store.

One would think I had fired a gun—no wait, that was 2019. Nobody is afraid of being shot anymore. Not with COVID around.

The Fateful Trip to the Pharmacy

I was all equipped for this. We’ve been practicing for months, after all. Mask, gloves, goggles (eyes are susceptible too), tight clothing which doesn’t brush against things or people, boots, crossbody slung close to the hip not a giant bag swinging around inviting germs by hobnobbing with other people’s elbows or arms.

CVS, with its blessed automatic doors that slid open without touching, was a haven of social distancing and plexiglass partitions. The pharmacy counter had an extra table between the counter and the pharmacist to ensure over 6 feet of distance.

I picked up my medications and sailed out, soothed by the completely flawless, touchless, encounter with the pharmacy.

I peeled off my plastic gloves, discarded them in the outside trashcan and sat in the car. I was about to turn the key in the ignition when my beautifully constructed germ-free encounter suddenly collapsed.

I HAD LEANED AGAINST THE TABLE IN FRONT OF THE COUNTER WHILE TALKING TO THE PHARMACIST. THE BOTTOM OF MY T-SHIRT AND MY CROSS BODY HAD BRUSHED AND REMAINED PRESSED FOR A TIME AGAINST A SURFACE WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN CONTAMINATED.

I threw my cross body off and flung it on the seat next to me as if it were a vile thing, crawling with germs. What about the t-shirt? The COVID tribe of viruses could be doing a dance on it right now if it had picked up anything from the customer before me, who, now that I thought about it, was an elderly man looking pale and sick, and who may even have sniffled.  Now that I was jogging my memory, yes, I was pretty sure he had sniffled. And, he’d gripped the table with both hands to keep his balance.

Where was my disinfectant? I fumbled desperately through my bag—I had forgotten it at home! No, I wasn’t going back into that CVS cesspool of possible COVID encounters! To my horror, here I was, stuck in a contaminated t-shirt, upon which the COVID cannibals could very well be doing a dance in preparation for their upcoming feast—me!

Dare I tear off the Corona virus festival shirt and fling it onto my contaminated crossbody? That would leave me in my underclothes – all saucy lace and frills, bought on Victoria’s Secret special sale – driving home two traffic lights away.

This is the USA, the birthplace of toplessness after all, I told myself. No one bats an eyelid. It was just a five-minute trip back home. Who could I possibly run into, in my car, in the middle of the afternoon? I was going to whoosh home, straight into my garage, and charge upstairs for a bath. I tore off my shirt, hunched over the steering wheel and sped down the road.

At the next intersection I tried desperately to sail through the traffic light, but it was too late.  I was staring steadfastly ahead, counting down the seconds and a movement made me glance quickly left. It was my neighbor’s father-in-law Mr. Narsimha, smiling back at me, waving his hand. Mr. Narsimha, who had hosted his grandson’s naming ceremony in early January. He nodded and waved in recognition. Mercifully, the light turned red. I shot out of there like a cannonball and nearly totaled my car speed-swerving into my garage!

COVID almost killed me, but not the way you would imagine!


Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Image by Chetraruc from Pixabay

You Have Been Scammed!

It was the end of February and I was at a pharmacy in Delhi, India. The house-help Julie looked over my shoulder at the medicine I was buying for her and whispered “Sunny Tiger (hand wash)” in my ear. “Sunny Tiger,” she said, “I want Sunny Tiger as well.” The threat of coronavirus hung in the air. TV stations had been exhorting people to buy sanitizer.

At the very same time in Kelowna, Canada, Councilwoman Mohini Singh was sitting down to her morning emails when her daughter Tara leaned over her shoulder and said, “Mum order some sanitizer please.” 

Tara took her mother’s credit card and went online to order three bottles of sanitizer.

When the bottles arrived in the mail they were the size of her index finger. The charge was $80.

Scammers have made off with $34 million in coronavirus-related fraud since the beginning of the year, reported the Federal Trade Commission.

Interestingly the fraudsters have targeted all age groups. Younger Americans ages 30 to 39 reported the greatest number of scams, while Americans ages 50 to 59 reported the highest financial loss. About 44 percent of the fraud complaints came from people who actually lost money – $5.85 million.

 

As part of their Family Emergency Scams advisory, the FTC warned grandparents specifically against family emergency messages that come from unfamiliar numbers and request wire transfers.

Scammers follow the money. They follow the headline, says Monica Vaca, Associate Director for the Division of Consumer Response and Operations in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. The Division hears from consumers across the country about problems they experience in the marketplace, and manages and provides law enforcement access to the Consumer Sentinel Network. They deliver refunds to consumers resulting from FTC law enforcement actions.

Speaking at a webinar organized by Ethnic Media Services, Monica Vaca warned people to be careful of the offers — whether it’s by phone, by email or text. Government agencies and legitimate firms never ask for payment with a prepaid gift card or wire transfer. She told people to beware of logos and verbiage that are trying to masquerade as official, as they are scams to trick people into sharing personal information. 

Exploiting the fears and uncertainty triggered by the pandemic is the scam artist’s game.

The top category on the FTC’s list of complaints was travel and vacation; more than 5,700 complaints were filed with consumers reporting more than $8.7 million in losses.

Travel cancellations triggered by the pandemic proved a ripe breeding ground for scams. People who had to cancel travel plans they made in previous months lost money in airfare, hotels, and other components of planned vacations. Online shopping scams were also responsible for a significant chunk of consumer-reported claims.

The pandemic has enabled fraudsters to have a buffet of options. An offer of help could be very alluring to people grappling with understanding the Economic Impact Payment or stimulus payments promised by the government. Online shopping for the uninitiated can be a maze. Cures for the dreaded Coronavirus, flights home for students, and Facebook endorsements of companies are potential quagmires. 

Be warned, says the FTC.  A quick click of the mouse promises to make it all easy but can trick you into giving away personal information. Report scams to  ftc.gov/coronavirus. Check with the Better Business Bureau for businesses and charities you can trust and for warnings of the latest scams. If you have already paid, ask your credit card company to treat it as an unauthorized transaction. Beware of phishing emails and text messages that tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. 

The Federal Trade Commission announced the launch of two new interactive dashboards reporting on international fraud and scams related to the pandemic. One site, a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world, gathers and shares complaints about international scams submitted by consumers to econsumer.gov.  Another site has data on international reports submitted to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network.

In a recent case originating from Nigeria, scamsters tricked the German health authorities into transferring EUR 880,000 as an advance for facemasks. The Germans were scrambling to find facemasks and other critical medical equipment as the pandemic grew, said Interpol, when the scamsters struck.

The German government was not the only one overturning every rock to find equipment in Corona times. When President Donald Trump posted on Twitter to urge Ford and General Motors to “START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!” – Yaron Oren-Pines, an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley tweeted back: “We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.”

Three days later, Buzzfeed reported that New York State paid Oren-Pines $69.1 million. The payment was for 1,450 ventilators — $47,656 per ventilator, at least triple the standard retail price of high-end models. 

No ventilators were delivered.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.