Wed | May 27, 2020

Michael Abrahams | How COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of our health

Published:Monday | March 30, 2020 | 12:10 AM

As COVID-19 brings the world to its knees, we are constantly updated on the number of cases, and deaths resulting from the disease, worldwide. At the time of writing this article, the number of confirmed cases globally was 680,583, with 31,914 deaths.* By the time you read this, these figures will be higher.

The symptoms of the illness are well documented. The causative agent, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), primarily attacks the lungs, causing a host of respiratory symptoms, including cough and shortness of breath. Fever, fatigue, muscle pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and loss of smell or taste can also be experienced when one is infected. On the other hand, some people will carry the virus and be asymptomatic.

The statistics regarding reported cases and deaths, however, do not tell us the full extent of the morbidity caused by the disease. Confirmed cases are not all cases. They only include people who tested positive. Some people may deliberately avoid presenting themselves to be tested, and testing rules and availability vary by country.

Also, we do not know how much other aspects of health are being affected.

The definition of health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” What many of us do not realise is that this pandemic is affecting the health of millions, possibly billions, of people who do not have and may never have the disease.

Social distancing is a godsend for many introverts. They have been practicing it for years, anyway, and they now feel less pressured to socialize or come up with excuses to not attend social events.

For those with happy home lives, being forced to spend more time in their places of residence is welcomed, as this strengthens the bonds between them and their family members.

But there are many persons who are now forced to be in the spaces of their abusers and toxic family members for prolonged periods of time, placing their health, and lives, at risk. For many abused children and spouses, rather than being a place of refuge, home is the least safe place for them to be.

There are elderly persons who will also face more exposure to abusive younger family members and caretakers when they are forced to stay home.

The pandemic has also affected the financial security of many. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more redundancies and pay cuts will occur.

The concept of working from home sounds easy but is not an option for most of us. Some, such as health workers in the public sector and members of our security forces, have no choice, as they are required to work to ensure the safety of the rest of us.

Others, who do not have regular paycheques and need to go out and physically work to make a living, such as vendors, have little choice.

Many of us are already living on the edge, and are barely managing to pay utility bills, school fees, rent, mortgages, car payments and to buy enough food to feed ourselves and our families.

People with chronic illnesses, who require long-term medication, will also face serious challenges if their incomes are disrupted, leading to their conditions being poorly controlled.

NOT WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES

The lack of social interaction is also not without consequence. Human contact is a need for most of us, and to have that withdrawn can be devastating. Lots of us live alone and are already suffering from loneliness.

For many persons of faith, especially the elderly, going to places of worship and engaging in religious activities keeps them going, and to have this privilege taken away from them has the potential to trigger or worsen mental health problems and exacerbate pre-existing physical ones.

As for people with pre-existing mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the present crisis is likely to worsen their states of mind. Even people who were never clinically depressed or diagnosed with anxiety may develop these afflictions as a result of our present situation.

Concerns about exposure to the virus and being ill, combined with uncertainty about job security and finances, will stress even the best of us, let alone those who are vulnerable.

And being indoors for prolonged periods decreases one’s exposure to sunlight, which is not only important for vitamin D production, but also benefits mood and sleep quality, among other effects.

The shorter this pandemic lasts, the healthier we all will be.

In the meantime, please do as much as you can to keep yourself and the rest of us safe. Practice social distancing as best you can. And please wash your hands.

*(By the time this article was completed, in the space of three hours, 269 more deaths had been reported. Information courtesy of worldometers.info)

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams