By: Dr Vijita Ningombam
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.” -George Bernard Shaw
While we have been suffering from the ethnic clashes, violence and deaths for nearly 3 months, there is an invisible war that’s waiting to be unleashed against us.
Throughout history, whenever there are major conflicts, battles or wars, the majority of deaths are due to indirect causes, specifically infectious diseases. Even though the rest of world is in a better place and ready to transition out from the emergency phase of COVID-19, Manipur is now at an even greater risk of epidemics which can be equally as devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health is a human right and we as a society should give equal priority to health during this humanitarian crisis. This implementation should be done at the earliest before the risk becomes higher.
People who have lost their homes are exposed to risks such as overcrowding in relief camps, poor access to clean water and sanitation, delayed diagnosis, reduced access to treatment, and other challenges at different levels, such as the availability of soap, sanitary pads and diapers. The reluctance to consider camps as homes rather than transitory spaces hinders investment of healthier alternatives for taking care of the surroundings. All of this can lead to an increased occurrence, severity and case fatality of infectious diseases that can be transmitted by all means including airborne (ex. Tuberculosis or TB, COVID-19), droplet (ex. COVID-19, Influenza, RSV), waterborne or by contamination with feces (ex. cholera, typhoid, polio), via insects (ex. malaria, dengue, chikungunya), by animals such as rats, dogs and cats (parasites, leptospirosis, and rare viruses) and by coming in contact with blood (ex. Hepatitis B and C, HIV).
Malnutrition and mental health issues have both short and long term effects and the consequences from these are as important to address such as infections. Preventive measures and strategies to avoid further damage to our society are a need of the hour and the government needs to take appropriate measures at the earliest.
Preventive measures such as vaccinations, inspections of shelter conditions, health surveillance to establish early warning system, hygiene and sanitation education, providing safe drinking water, proper disposal of waste products, clean toilets and hand washing facilities, proper menstrual pad disposal and support for menstrual health, as well as screening new refugees for infections, identifying any serious medical needs/conditions, access to primary care services, and most importantly preparedness, response planning and monitoring any outbreaks at the earliest should be prioritized.
Parasites, bacteria and viruses do not discriminate between Kuki, Meitei, Indian or Burmese. We need to stop this hatred. Regardless of whose fault it is, regardless of fairness, justice or vengeance, when the diseases come for us, they will come for us all. Disease does not discriminate against ethnicity, religion, caste or culture. Let us not forget the most recent lesson from COVID-19 where we all suffered together as humans.
The invisible war of Manipur
By: Dr Vijita Ningombam