By Varuni Trivedi
World Health Organisation has stated that COVID-19 is here to stay and might become an endemic disease. Starting off as a viral infection originating from China’s Wuhan, the disease became an epidemic and then a pandemic affecting the entire world. The novel coronavirus as of now has more than 4.4 million recorded cases and has claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people worldwide. For now, scientists and health experts across the world see no new developments in terms of vaccines and have predicted that it is likely to become an endemic disease.
In a recent press conference, Dr. Mike Ryan, Emergencies Director at WHO mentioned that the COVID-19 infection may never go away and has a possibility of becoming “just another endemic virus in our communities.” Furthermore, he said that it will take massive efforts to curb the transmission of Coronavirus, and ultimately we might have to learn to live with it. “This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away. HIV has not gone away, but we have come to terms with the virus,” Dr. Mike Ryan stated.
When a disease starts spreading its called an epidemic. If an epidemic has been recorded in several countries and areas then it is called a pandemic. The coronavirus, however is more likely to become an endemic. At this point, it becomes imperative to understand what exactly is an endemic disease and what we can understand from it especially in the Indian context:
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whenever a disease is present constantly among a large number of people, it can be called an ‘endemic’. A rather simple example of endemic diseases is malaria and chickenpox. In spite of the presence of vaccines they still exist and there is some number of cases registered every year across many countries. A more prominent example, being HIV and tuberculosis, such endemic diseases struggle to maintain the same attention. However, in totality, these diseases continue to impose a far higher public health burden than epidemic disease and continue to thrive.
The pivotal role of risk and risk perception is essential when explaining individual and societal responses to diseases when classified as endemic or epidemic. The heterogeneity of risk across different populations is one of the key aspects of this classification.
Thus, according to an article by Science Journal, individual and societal risks both determine the classification of a disease as an epidemic or endemic. Further meaning that the classification of disease reflects both biological and social phenomena.
When epidemics become endemic the responsibility of protection against the disease shifts from the government to the individual. This entails major socio-political reforming and education on a mass level. Instead of just the government agencies engaging in tracking and identifying cases, the individuals themselves will also be responsible for managing disease risks and taking required precautions and care.
This makes the public responsible for the identification and prevention of the disease imparting major behavioral changes in them as a society. Apart from this, the WHO report also stated that if coronavirus becomes an endemic the investments being made to curb the transmission of this contagious virus will become institutionalized.
As for the Indian context it needs to be asserted that the government should impose stricter social distancing, health, and hygiene norms. The resumption of work in service and industrial sectors needs to be formulated under strict guidelines issued by the government. It is pretty evident that this is humanity’s biggest crisis since World War II and has the world economy at an all-time low. We shall witness the post-WWII order perishing, the economics of neo-liberalism falling apart, and an enormous power vacuum in the state of world affairs.
It can be concluded that the novel coronavirus if declared an endemic, it will not only change the basic behavioral pattern but also impose major socio-economic changes worldwide.