“Medical Science has been more a curse to mankind than a blessing. It has broken the force of epidemics and unveiled a marvellous surgery; but, also, it has weakened the natural health of man and multiplied individual diseases; it has implanted fear and dependence in the mind and body; it has taught our health to repose not on natural soundness but a rickety and distasteful crutch compact from the mineral and vegetable kingdoms” – Sri Aurobindo (CWSA 12, p. 475).
Sri Aurobindo’s words perfectly capture the health crisis that is presently facing India and the world – especially India. India is going through a massive second wave of COVID19 coronavirus, and the failure – and perversity – of the commercial medical system stands more exposed than ever before.
The positivity rate of infections and the daily number of cases are at all-time high, as are the total number of deaths. Unlike the last year’s first wave of the virus, this wave is marked by the chaos of India’s healthcare system buckling under the pressure of patients and shortage of oxygen, ventilators and beds. Graveyards across various states are running out of cremation capacity. Psychologically, even though the government has resolutely refrained from announcing a lockdown, yet people are exhibiting great fear.
In the midst of all this, politics galore is also continuing. Petty politics and fake news is rampant. International media has also once again found its calling in pronouncing emphatic doomsday scenarios for India and bashing Narendra Modi, conveniently ignoring the fact that second wave in developed countries like USA and UK were much worse despite the fact that they had a stringent lockdown going on.
In this unfolding scenario, the most critical point driven home – being missed by many – is that such collective health disasters are increasingly becoming commonplace and are likely to increase in the future. The public and private healthcare systems, based on a foundation of utilitarianism, are being thoroughly exposed, and are crumbling – people who helplessly turn to them are increasingly disappointed and devastated by the resulting financial ruin and then the loss of the lives of their dear ones. Given the rising anti-microbial resistance of our bodies, worsened lifestyles and the general mental and physical degradation, our collective capacity to deal with such viruses is severely hampered. In this struggle for survival, it is now only the strengthening of body’s natural defense in a fear-free mind that can help us in coping with such challenges.
Mapping India’s Second Wave
India witnessed the spread of COVID19 virus in March 2020. The response of the government at the time was to go into a devastating and failed lockdown that not only induced fear, but also failed to curb the spread of the virus and broke the economy. The first wave of COVID19 took its own course and India’s COVID19 cases peaked in mid-September 2020 at around 93,000 daily new cases and 5.2 million total cases. Ever since then, India’s graph of daily new cases has been flattening and coming down, with very minor variations.
However, from the end of February 2021 and especially since the first week of March, India’s cases started picking up pace and by the end of March, they began to accelerate at an extremely sharp pace. Currently, India has more than 3 lakh daily new cases, and a daily death toll between 3000-4000 people.
The second wave has seen an unprecedented rise in cases, number of deaths as well as overwhelming of India’s health infrastructure, due to issues like oxygen shortage. The mutated strain of the virus – which is undergoing several mutations as it travels through India’s population – is becoming more infectious with every mutation.
Rise in Cases and Vaccinations:
India’s second wave has coincided with rise in vaccinations in the country. Two vaccines (manufactured in India) have been administered till now viz. Serum Institute’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Recently, India gave approval to Russia’s Sputnik vaccine too. India started vaccinations between January-February 2021.
In countries like Israel, where more than 50% of the population has been vaccinated, the case-load has drastically fallen. In US as well, the case-load is falling as the vaccinations are rising. The case of Russia is also similar.
In India, the rate of vaccination and coverage is still low (relative to the population). During trials, most COVID19 vaccines, world over, have shown efficacy ranging between 60% and 95%, but none offers 100% protection against the virus.
Data from India shows that 0.02% of people contracted the virus after the first dose of Covishield vaccine, while 0.04% people contracted the virus after first dose of Covaxin vaccine. After second dose, 0.03% people contracted the virus in case of Covishield vaccine and 0.04% contracted it in case of Covaxin.
Source: Ravi (2021)
While the reported rate of infection after vaccinations is certainly low, what is more important is that vaccines do not provide full protection against the virus. This means that as the number of vaccinated people rise, they may become asymptomatic carriers of the virus, transmitting it to others. This may be one of the reasons contributing to the sudden spike in infections after the vaccinations started. However, whether vaccinations led to an increase in cases cannot be established with certainty.
Current Spread Trends:
The growth in active cases began to pick up pace after February. As of March 1st, the average daily rate of increase in cases (7-day average) was 2.4%. It has sharply accelerated since then. By March 20th, the average daily rate of increase in cases had gone up to 5.3%, and within the next eight days it was 6.4%. It began to decline in late April, going from 5.6% on April 26th to 3.5% on April 30th.
Due to decrease in growth rate of cases, India’s graph of active cases has now begun to come down. However, commensurately, the rate of vaccination has also come down. As of May 3rd, India’s average daily rate of vaccination is 0.14 per 100 people (7-day average). The share of India’s population that is fully vaccinated (both doses) is 2.1%, as of May 3rd.
Comparison with Other Countries:
India presently has 13,316 cases per million and is ranked 78th in the world. Compared to India, US has 97,373 cases per million, while various other countries are also significantly ahead.
In terms of daily new confirmed cases per million people, India has 233.06 per million daily new cases. Argentina, Sweden and Turkey still have some of the highest daily new cases per million at 527.45, 540.42 and 612.36 per million, respectively, although their curves are either gradually flattening or going down.
It is important to note that testing rate is lower in India, as compared to various other countries. As of April 30th, India’s testing rate was 1.24 tests per thousand people. In Canada, it is 3.43 tests per thousand people, in US it is 2.79 tests per thousand, although US’s daily testing graph is sharply dipping. In India, daily testing is rapidly rising.
The graph below shows the daily number of tests done by select countries, per thousand people. As can be seen, testing rate of US and Japan has come down:
The US’s testing has sharply come down, commensurate with their decline in cases. It is also evident that Japan has even lower testing rate than India.
Coming to the death rate, based on official reporting, India has a lower death rate vis-à-vis population than many other countries. India’s total deaths per million is 161.1.
The graph below shows the cumulative deaths per million of select countries:
India’s cumulative deaths per million continue to be lower than US, Russia and Europe.
With India’s rate of infections going down, the situation is likely to stabilize further in the coming weeks.
The Key Takeaway
Despite the relatively stable indicators of virus spread relative to India’s population, the explosion in absolute numbers has formed an overall grim picture for the country. With India’s daily rise in absolute numbers is among the highest in the world, combined with oxygen crisis along with the mutated virus strain this time, the fear among people has been rampant. This has worsened the spread of the virus, as any kind of fear or anxiety naturally lowers the immunity of the body and leads to complications such as fall in oxygen levels.
The spread of this fear has been aided in no small measure by the manipulations of the health and media experts of the country. The undulated health crisis in the country has exposed the broken state of health sector under the present commercial system and brought home the fact that building the body’s natural immunity is the only protection against the onslaught of such viruses, which are likely to intensify in the future.
But, in the present age of medical science and its exploits, we are far removed from our own natural immunity. As Sri Aurobindo says, “Distrust of the curative power within us was our physical fall from Paradise. Medical Science and a bad heredity are the two angels of God who stand at the gates to forbid our return and reentry.” (CWSA 12:477)
A Deep Rot in Healthcare:
Healthcare is one area that has, in the recent years, become highly commercialized the world over. It inextricably affects questions of not only life and death, but also of our psychology and well-being. This sector has now become an unscrupulous business, where cold calculations and deception determine the running of the major part of this industry. Ironically, this worsening of the healthcare system has proceeded in tandem with the rise in advanced medical technologies and procedures. In recent times, nowhere has this been more evident than in the case of the trajectory of the COVID19 pandemic in India.
The pandemic has revealed the distinct unholy nexus between hospitals, pharmacies and medical companies and bureaucracy that exploit every crisis to the hilt. Presently, the country has run out of oxygen, in no small part due to logistical and distributional problems. In various places (like Noida in UP), up to 200 beds in several hospitals were vacated after it was found that they had forcibly admitted non-critical patients. In many cases, it has emerged that hospitals are forcibly admitting patients who simply have symptoms and then later claiming that they have run out of bed capacity. UP government even warned that action will be taken against hospitals that raise false alarm about oxygen in order to spread fear so that they may charge very high fees from frightened well to do patients.
Other practices of the various pharmacies and hospitals have also been exposed. In many cases, despite having a stock of required drugs (like Remdesivir), hospitals often claim that they do not have it and force the patients to initially run from pillar to post and then buy them through the medical lobby’s extended networks in lakhs of rupees. Individual care in some hospitals has started costing a lot which after much bargaining is reduced somewhat. The deaths of admitted patients go unexplained – much like during the last year. There is no accountability for what medicines and procedures are being administered and why.
The situation has come to such a stage that people are finally realizing that it has become a folly to visit hospitals. In addition, there is also the aspect of suspect political intentions of the commercial medical lobbies. The Modi government is no great friend of the medical fraternity, having promoted in the past practices like Homeopathy, Ayurveda and Yoga (even for coronavirus) at an official level through various concrete initiatives, policies and programmes, even to the unprecedented extent of allowing Ayurvedic practitioners to perform surgeries under supervision. These and other blows to the allopathic medical lobby have pitted the Indian Medical Association against the present government, with lakhs of doctors going on strike just a few months back. Therefore, this antagonism and the political embroiling of the medical sector has exposed it even further. An IMA Vice-President referred to PM Modi as a ‘super-spreader’ of the virus recently, thereby betraying their own unprofessional biases.
A single virus has badly exposed the entire system, preying on the fear of the people. It is this fear and the deep-rooted extremes of commercialism that has made the situation appear much worse than it actually is, so much so that people are now generally afraid of going to the hospitals.
The Only Way Out:
“The spirit within us is the only all-efficient doctor and submission of the body to it the one true panacea.” – Sri Aurobindo (CWSA 12, p. 476).
Under such conditions – which are much worse than the information coming out of the opaque system – people will gradually grasp that they are essentially on their own. In the coming times, with various environmental and technological changes, the nature and incidence of such viruses is likely to increase. Body’s resistance to antibiotics is already demonstrated, and the turn towards alternative treatment methods other than modern medicine may see a wider acceptance. This trend is already visible in the case of the present virus, where people are heavily relying on home remedies that have been found to be effective, world over. The exports of ingredients required for such remedies (such as turmeric and whole spices) from India has also increased since last year.
The coming times portend a struggle for survival in which only the body’s natural defence can truly help, where remedies and concepts of modern medical sector are being proven as ineffective and the trust in modern medicine is on a wane. It is incorrect to assume that government intervention in public health can deal with issues beyond the mere superficial ones. At the most such intervention can only improve the logistics and management, but cannot guarantee quality of treatment or honesty of doctors or root out the worsening commercial spirit – The deep-rooted failures can only be dealt with by reducing reliance on the corrupted modern medicine with its inability to deal with major emerging diseases and problems in the human body.
And, even this is not absolute; for, health is linked inevitably to psychology, which, in turn, is shaped by our consciousness. Mechanically building body’s immunity may help to some extent but will not go very far without a corresponding change of consciousness. Thus, despite the advancement of science and technology, the crushing force of circumstances seems to be taking us towards a time where much of this advancement becomes either useless or dangerous in the hands of a deteriorated consciousness. In the case of health, as Sri Aurobindo says, “The healthiest ages of mankind were those in which there were the fewest material remedies.” (CWSA 12, p. 475)
 Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death (WHO, 2020).
CWSA 12. (2001). On Thoughts and Aphorisms. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Ravi, S. (2021).