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The Greying Population of India Hit with COVID-19

While parents left behind in India are terrified of COVID-19, their NRI children are impatient in a distant land to return back to them. We are worried about our loved ones staying far away. Recently, NRIs settled in US, UK, France, dealt with the rapid transmission of COVID-19. The nightmare of a rapid influx of positive COVID-19 cases among potential foreign returnees is petrifying and we must be wary for the most vulnerable populations in India.

In India, the number of working-age populations suffering from COVID-19 is substantial because of its large middle-aged populace, yet the elderly are just as likely of getting the infection, resulting in fatality; this is due to weaker immunity systems, presence of comorbidities, and slower recoveries from diseases.

A handful of research supports that 60+ people with pre-existing comorbidities like chronic lung, liver, kidney diseases, hypertension, cardiovascular illnesses, cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and those dependent on immunosuppressive drugs have a higher chance of COVID-19 infection than the rest.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of COVID-19 associated deaths are among more than 65 years’ age group, with increased deaths in elderly males. Thereby, it becomes a challenge to fight the disease for India where the number of the elderly population is close to the combined population of UK and Italy.

The Health Ministry opined in April that “8.61% cases are between 0-20 years, 41.88% cases are between 21 to 40 years, 32.82% cases are between 41 to 60 years and 16.69% cases above 60 years“. Simple statistics from the current population structure can establish the vulnerability of the greying population- about 8% of Indian population above 60 years’ accounts 17 % of COVID 19 patients; while about 62% Indians 20-60 years have approximately 73% COVID-19 cases. Hence, the elderly is at no less risk than the middle-aged to this novel disease.

India has a propounding 140 million (UN projection, 2020) 60+ population. Majority of the districts across India have 7-10% percent elderly. While, many districts of Southern states – Maharashtra, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Punjab – have more than a 10% elderly population (Fig1: a). Based on 2011 Census, our map indicates that many districts of Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana have a high proportion of 60+ elderly who are disabled (seeing, hearing, speech, movement, mental retardation, and mental illness; Fig1: b). Districts with a higher proportion of elderly, especially disabled elderly, require special focus and regular monitoring in the framework of tackling pandemic.

Elderly Population in India, 2011.

(a) Proportion of 60+ elderly; (b) Proportion of 60+ elderly disable

 

Impacts on the elderly are layered. World Health Organization (WHO) has identified mental health as an integral part of overall health in correspondence with physiological, behavioral, and psychological wellbeing of older adults. Gerontological studies have established the association of inadequate social wellbeing and poor elderly health.

Proportion of Elderly Living Alone and The Prevalence of Different Diseases Per 1000

StateLiving AloneMental IllnessDepressive symptomsHypertensionDiabetesAsthma
Assam386.9020.80656.20252.8059.0080.10
Karnataka343.10117.40592.90237.90141.6072.10
Maharashtra341.505.40557.00179.0090.60110.10
Rajasthan378.306.10452.00142.9042.0078.60
Uttar Pradesh316.0028.20552.00133.6028.80100.50
West Bengal350.004.10567.30245.1067.3064.30
India341.0026.80554.30181.6065.7089.80

 

 

  Source: Calculated from WHO-SAGE 2007 Data

The long lockdown in India is vital to avoid burdening the healthcare system and to suppress the chain of transmission of infection. It is mandatory to take “extra care” of the elderly because social distancing may lead to depression, anxiety, and mental illness, especially among the elderly who are living alone and/or are disabled. The vulnerability of the elderly with less social support can escalate in instances of accessing medical support, transportation, banking, food access, etc.

Income, medical security, and social support are major challenges during and beyond the lockdown period. Although, the central government has announced some financial-welfare schemes and guidelines/instructions in the light of the COVID-19 crisis, the helplessness of the aged needs special consideration.

During this tough time, it is necessary for the government, stakeholders, social welfare organizations, and communities to stand in solidarity to provide the essential supplies (groceries, vegetables- fruits and medicines) to the elderly at their doorstep. We need to take precautionary steps to avoid infecting the older adults by sanitizing and frequently cleaning their belongings like, clothes, spectacles, canes, walkers, beds, toilets, chappals, etc. and encouraging them to get engaged in possible physical activities/works within the home.

In order to bolster our elderly loved ones, we need to assist them through social and mental connectivity. The void of connectedness can be minimized through phone, online calls, messages, or encouraging them to interact with friends/neighbors keeping a safe distance.  We all should stay connected with the aged while staying away to keep the world positive.


Subhojit Shaw is a doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Population Sciences in Mumbai, India (IIPS, Mumbai). His academic quest revolves around population aging, child health, and environmental health.

Aparajita Chattopadhyay with her two decades of teaching and research experience, has contributed well in the fields of public health, gender issues, aging, environment-development, and nutrition. She is a faculty of the International Institute for Population Sciences.

All views expressed are personal.

QuaranTeen – The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

“It’s like you’re practically living through history, Kanchan,” was the first thing my mother told me as I logged into my third period on Zoom.

I rubbed my eyes, which had become perpetually blurry after my exponential increase in daily screen time. Every day became Pajama Day, where I drowsily took calculus notes from the comfort of my bed. Every night was dedicated to hilariously cynical posts on Facebook’s Zoom Memes for Self-Quaranteens and Instagram’s Self-Isolation Bingo. I was not living through history. I was practically sleeping through it, coping with fear and mass-anxiety with a tired sense of denial. And it was only after my mother made that comment that I was reminded of the immense responsibilities that young people have during this global pandemic.

For us, the coronavirus is not a test of what we’ll endure; rather, it’s a test of whether we’ll let others survive — a test that’s meeting with some mixed responses from our generation. 

The Good

E-shopping, social media, digital marketing — the infamous hallmarks of the iGeneration now play a critical role in the sustainability of social distancing. And young people are spearheading this effort, with the trending #stayhome and the #stayhomesavelives tags on social media platforms. Digital culture has changed dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus. My feed is flooded with screenshots group Skype calls, featuring laughing friends and family. People post daily photos of their dogs lying on living room rugs, of the closets they’re about to finally clean and the new recipes they’re about to try with all the spare time. I didn’t realize it at first, but this shift is comforting in a domestic way; I think posts that document self-isolation provide a necessary reminder that all of us are learning to adjust to this New Normal, with its glitches and imperfections. 

Even more helpful is the volume of educational content that is available online, a bulk of which is circulated by young people. Everyone benefits from knowing the facts — from knowing the concentration of alcohol required for a bottle of hand sanitizer to understanding the difference between ‘antibacterial and ‘antiviral’. Students with parents or relatives in the healthcare industry often provide updates about the impending situation. One of my friends even posted a tutorial showing the spots we tend to miss when we wash our hands on her Youtube channel. Although we’re physically separated from one another, our digital communities provide a platform for compassion and group learning. It was through Instagram that I signed an online petition encouraging major corporations like Whole Foods to pay laborers for their time off. Informational content is so simple to spread. It’s a matter of a click, a forward, a re-tweet — but it’s my generation’s effort to protect some of society’s most vulnerable. 

The Bad

But for every helpful post that I find on social media, there are two more derisive comments about how only ‘old people are affected by corona’, and how ‘this is a free country’.

Freedom, the cultural hallmark of this democracy, has been warped to accommodate selfish delusions of young people who feel invincible in the face of a global pandemic. A distinct disappointment fills me when I come across videos of lockdown parties, where college students secretly celebrate their ‘extended vacation’ by deliberately ignoring the rules of social distancing. As they cheer on a keg stand, I frown in disapproval. A painfully oblivious beachgoer responds into the camera, “If I get corona, I get corona.” Because it honestly does not matter if he goes ahead and “gets corona” while spring breaking in a jam-packed Florida beach. What does matter is the countless elderly or uninsured people he will put at risk. I wonder if he can see beyond the idyllic Florida sunlight — if his ignorance permits him to notice his city’s crowded hospitals and exhausted healthcare workers paying the consequences of these very parties.

The response from my generation reeks of the same ignorance that permeates conversations about gun control or climate change. From the right to bear arms to the right to congregate, our individual freedoms don’t mean we are not  accountable for the choices we make — and the lives we may take in the process. 

The Ugly

The moment you think it can’t get worse, it somehow does. The line between the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ emerges when ignorance turns to apathy. Some of us refuse to self-isolate because we don’t understand the consequences of our actions. Others simply don’t care — and that’s a far more horrifying mindset to face.

When I first heard about ecofascism, I was convinced it was a joke. But through the ever-present Internet, I was guided into this twisted celebration of the coronavirus, where the horrifying death toll is another step towards an ecological utopia. “Coronavirus is saving the planet”, a netizen proudly claims. Yes, our air-quality will naturally improve with fewer flights and vehicles dominating the highways. But in no way is COVID-19 a step towards a hidden “Greater Good”. Glorifying a pandemic disrespects the thousands who have lost their lives to this virus. It disregards the janitors and sanitary workers who have no choice but to risk their own for a Greater Good that is far more terrifying beyond the face of a screen. As much as I appreciate memes for pulling me through my second week of self-isolation, I can’t help but reel in disgust when I see jokes about ‘BoomerRemover’, which somehow insinuates that the vulnerable elderly deserve to face this harrowing reality alone. 

All of us are living through history. Like every other high school junior, I fantasize about the essay questions found on AP US History exams ten years later. When I finally have that opportunity to reflect on the coronavirus outbreak rather than cope with it on a daily basis, I wonder what I’ll tell my children. I wonder what they’ll tell their own. Regardless of what that day will look like, I don’t want to tell them that my generation watched thousands of immunocompromised individuals buckle beneath the weight of a threatening disease. I don’t want to tell them we shut our eyes and waited for these moments of crisis to pass. Without the right to drive or vote, young people still hold immense power to fight back. And the way we use that power ultimately defines the stories we’ll tell. 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.