The Global Impact of Major Epidemics
– Dr. Nitish Nadkarni
THE GLOBAL IMPACT OF MAJOR EPIDEMICS
The socio-economic conditions in China prevailing at the time of SARS and its comparison to the current economic debacle of COVID-19, is not a Herculean task. Looking at the statistics, one can easily conclude that China was a $1.2 trillion economy as opposed to the economy boom of $12.24 trillion today. Economic growth, retail sales, industrial output and steady trade volumes, all being a measure of an emerging economy, were at an all-time low during the SARS epidemic, when it hit in 2002. The Global macroeconomics of COVID-19 however, tell a totally different story. Global economy is estimated to suffer a loss of $2.7 trillion dollars, out of which, China itself is estimated to suffer a loss of $1 trillion during the current epidemic, a value worth the China’s whole economy 18 years ago.
When we analyze Global Healthcare Systems, particularly medications, we shouldn’t be surprised to see that these too are in dire straits. India is one of the largest exporters of medicinal drugs in the world. Now, one may argue that COVID-19 hasn’t hit India as severely as it has in China. However, it has to be understood that 70% of the raw goods in India come from China; and in cases of some anti-pyretic and critical antibiotics like Azithromycin, the dependence on China is close to 100%, as some experts say.
Outside the pharmaceutical industry, too, we see developing and developed countries facing a severe quagmire. It is estimated that approximately 17 million Smartphone shipments across the globe are expected to reduce due to the current COVID-19 epidemic. This wasn’t the case with SARS and MERS, as Smartphones were a luxury back then and with Ebola, the regional distribution of Smartphones was scarce in the first place.
Many manufacturers, due to this, are considering exiting the production array in countries like China, before the costs increase. Rising labor costs amidst the threat of the virus is much more severe as compared to the epidemics like SARS and MERS. Minimum hourly wages which were 4.12 Chinese Yuan in 2008 (roughly at the time MERS was emerging) are increasing to 14.4 Chinese Yuan in the current scenario. This has led to a serious deterioration of the quality of life for the underprivileged section of society.
However, even in the wake of recent events, where the supply chains recognize a need to be shifted, a more dangerous problem lurks. Statistics reveal than the air departures to America have decreased by a whopping 63.2%, while in case of departure to Africa, it has decreased by 56.1%. That’s not a hit just to the economy but also to the ambition of shifting the supply chain to a place which is less infectious in the current scenario and still a stable economy. This is in stark contrast to the time of Nipah and Ebola where the supply chains didn’t exist in abundance to be shifted, and air travel didn’t significantly matter because of the spread to relatively underdeveloped nations.
About 7.2 trillion USD or 10% of global GDP was spent on health in 2015. Considering the protracted loss due to a single epidemic, this amount seems pretty less. This inadequacy can be contributed by the unrest occurring in the major democracies and the panic spreading far and wide due to the unchecked use of social media.
This can be illustrated in the news where a pharmacist was found to be stealing single use surgical masks from hospitals and reselling them after washing, when the WHO has clearly stated that surgical masks provide no protection when used alone.
As the spread of COVID-19 is much vast than its predecessors, the influence of this on the Bull is high. As more and more renowned companies dive deep into losses owing to the supply chain aberrations, the stock market continues to plunge. Dow Jones Industrial Average sank about 2997.10 points, as Apple, Boeing, Goldman Sachs and Caterpillar sank by more than 100 points each (as of 16th March 2020). This unprecedented feat can only be matched by October 15, 2008, where the stock market fell by 7.87%.
The pathophysiology of COVID-19 is similar to the pathophysiology of SARS and MERS as they hail from the same family of viruses. However, subtle differences between those viruses make the death rates and disease burden differ between them.
COVID-19 has contributed to 48,319 deaths worldwide (out of 951,754 cases worldwide) (as of 2nd April 2020) with an average death rate of 5.07% and a death rate of 21.9% in highly susceptible individuals (those above 80 years of age). This needs to be compared with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Virus (with 8,437 total cases, mortality rate of 9.63%) and the Middle East Respiratory Syncytial Virus (with 2,499 cases, mortality rate of
The novel Coronavirus of 2019 has exposed the ugly face of hate, racism and stereotypes. Renowned magazines have articles filled with documentation about the specific targeting of Chinese immigrants. This concept though, isn’t new. Jews were blamed for the Black Death. Irish workers were blamed for the Cholera Epidemic. Syphilis was considered a ‘Black’ disease. Chinatown, which once was filled with the hustle-bustle saw empty streets during the SARS outbreak of 2003. This rift in the political ideology, religious belief, education, gender, median income, inequality is underscored. Thus, the virus isn’t just a threat to humans, but also to humanity.
At last, the tragedy of Dr. Li Wenliang, the individual who sounded the alarm for the Wuhan Corona Virus, is not just a medical one. When millions of people are denied the opportunity to grieve collectively over someone widely regarded as a hero, it has to be remembered that he was hailed by the Public Security Bureau for posting a warning on WeChat. He was one of the eight whistleblowers. As the world is trying to find the truth about this epidemic, to quote Chernobyl, we must ask, “What is the cost of lies?”.