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03.18.20

The Multi-faceted Shocks of Pandemics

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As each day brings news about new and additional measures against COVID-19 spread, it opens our eyes to see how we face all significant and small changes and challenges that I describe as multi-faceted shocks. While these changes and challenges are expected in any pandemic situation, COVID-19 is a live example of all human life disruptions and the low-quality public health this world has to face due to a pandemic. It shows how epidemics are public health crises, not just because they are caused by pathogens that affect human health, but also because they diminish the core aspects of human life. 

In dealing with pandemics, healthcare providers detect, examine and provide necessary treatments. This is, of course, considering how limited their efforts could get with a potentially large number of infected people, limited resources, and treatment options that are yet to be discovered. The fact that pandemic impacts all aspects of our lives limits the power of public health measures in effectively preventing transmission or successfully containing a disease. Because pandemics affect the different aspects of our lives, the quality of public health diminishes and it takes another set of measures to restore it. 

Pandemics threaten human security in many ways. Both our mental and physical health deteriorate during emergencies, although the burden each of us face varies depending on where we are, how we live, and the health conditions we have. Our mental health declines due to the insecurity (the fear, anxiety, and any other reactions) we would have during public health emergencies. When businesses shut down to prevent the transmission of a pandemic, unemployment results thereby causing economic insecurity. Because people tend to do their groceries in large amounts in these circumstances, other people face the resulting scarcity of food products. School and religious activities are examples of different aspects of life that get disrupted due to a pandemic.  

Pandemics also threaten national security due to the substantial financial burden they cause to the national economy. This burden and the public life disruptions discussed above will cause a decline in the country’s gross domestic product if the disease continues to spread. Studies also proved that the environment gets harmed in a situation of a pandemic. The effects of a pandemic are devastating in low and middle-income settings where there are weak health systems. The impacts are exacerbated, among other reasons, due to comorbidity, inaccessible medical care to the infected, lack of resources, and environmental factors (including lack of clean and adequate water, and inadequate sanitation). 

Containing a pandemic requires decisions to be made at international, national, and local levels. While health decisions have political, social, economic, and human rights implications, it takes time until they are reached, and successfully and effectively implemented. Hence, pandemics do not just stop at that level where they cause human mortality and morbidity. Although the degree and extent differ, pandemics do cause the above mentioned socio-economic disruptions in spite of public health emergency measures taken in response.

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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