The World Health Organisation’s news and social media team managing the coronavirus outbreak has been disappointing to say the least. I will not comment on how the on-field workers are doing because going by the way UN and WHO ground staff function, it is probably much better than the way the media team has been managing it.
Millions of people with access to social media have relied on the WHO for information, but in the past week, this has not been the case. It first started after WHO put out a tweet suggesting that coronavirus will not be spread by pets.
Its myth-buster page stated the following
Q: Can pets at home spread the new #Coronavirus (2019-nCOV)?
A: At present there is no such evidence that companions animals/pets such as dogs, cats can be infected with the virus. However, it's always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets.
However, WHO removed this from its FAQ section, but a number of people are still confused about whether pets can spread coronavirus. While it has been proved that it can transmit from humans to pets, there is no scientific evidence that it can transfer from pets to humans.
This is case 1. The second case has how the World Health Organisation has for the past three days been praising China for recording zero cases of coronavirus in the country. Relying only on news from Chinese sources, and nothing to clarify otherwise. Recently, China expelled three United States journalists for their ‘biased’ reporting of the coronavirus pandemic. Notably, Chinese authorities hid the fact that the novel coronavirus strain originated in their country for almost two months and even arrested whistle-blowers. One doctor, who was working with coronavirus patients also died under mysterious circumstances.
People too have not taken kindly to the way WHO’s social media team has handled the situation, with some tweets calling the body ‘a joke’.
WHO has also praised India’s handling of the situation. And while India’s efforts have been laudable, given the crumbling health care sector, there are things that need to be considered.
Firstly, does our health care sector have the facilities to take care of 1.2 billion people? Secondly, have the slums even been taken into consideration. An Indian Express report on Friday highlighted this issue where a slum in Mumbai had what could be the first case of locally transmitted coronavirus in the city. The report also highlighted the lack of basic facilities like drinking water – leave alone water to wash hands.
Nearly 76 million people in India do not have access to safe drinking water, as polluted rivers and poor storage infrastructure over the years has created a water deficit which may become unmanageable in the future.
And if you look at the situation in Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus station in Kurla today, where daily wage labourers are thronging without any concept of social distancing to get back home, you know that the numbers in maximum city are likely to shoot up any minute.
State and central governments have done a laudable job in instructing people to stay at home and function, rather than step out to do the same. They have done this aggressively, by issuing warnings and not fear, and knowing that India has a fragile public health system, asking everyone to stay at home is the best thing the government can do for us. WHO’s passive management of the pandemic is disappointing to say the least, and hopefully the parent body changes its guidelines during a situation like this to give people the real picture rather than a watered down version of it.