Saturday, June 22, 2024

Lifting pandemic measures?

The Black Death, the Spanish flu, influenza of varying types, HIV/AIDS and the COVID-19 pandemic have to some degree incapacitated the world by posing different kinds of threats.

A disease becomes an outbreak when it covers a small geographic area. If it widens in terms of time, place and increased number of cases, it becomes an epidemic. The duration of its occurrence could also be short or long. When it is short with a constant number of cases across time in a geographically confined area, we can then refer to it as an endemic. An endemic disease of different geographic area differs accordingly. The shift is from a single case of a disease into an outbreak, into an epidemic and then into an endemic.

A pandemic refers to a disease that attacks multiple countries, becoming a new and major global public health threat. It has a huge multi-dimensional impact by challenging the health policies, programs, healthcare workers and lifesaving services, overwhelming the healthcare system in general. Budget is diverted to prevention and control to abate the spread of the pandemic, constraining the whole healthcare system.

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Due to the nature of the virus and the need to control its spread had meant that measures restricting movement and regulations, curtailing businesses operations had to come into play. Governments, including Ethiopia, instituted nationwide partial or full lockdowns with personal protective equipment’s becoming mandatory.

Even though implementing these measures is difficult, most people became accustomed to wearing masks and sanitizing frequently which has turned into a habit. So how can these measures be lifted and return to some semblance of normality?

According to experts, lifting the measures is not as straight forward as it seems. Hospital admission and death rate, vaccination coverage and effective use of PPEs, and other preventive measures, must be given due considerations.

In the past couple of months, the number of cases, transmission rate, fatality and re-infection were considerably reducing. The estimated death toll by experts from available data in Ethiopia was around 56,100. And, until March, 18, 2022, the number of COVID-19 related deaths was far lower compared to other countries.

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In the past three months, the number of cases globally, the prevalence of new infections and death has lowered significantly. If we take Omicrons rate of transmission, according to the Lancet, its transmission rate is faster than the use of PPEs. Its surge will also increase the coverage of vaccinations and “herd immunity” will be acquired and this lowers the level of viral transmission.

Nevertheless, the number of asymptomatic carriers is escalating whereas re-infection is low. In a South African study, about 85.3 percent of the cases were asymptomatic.

Immunity against COVID-19 is acquired in two ways. This is from a previous infection or vaccination. While vaccination coverage remains low, the effective and regular use of PPEs reduces the chance of further transmissions. However, the constant use of PPEs for the past two years may result in unexpected health complications.

According to the February 2022 Lancet Commentary, “After the omicron wave, COVID-19 will return but the pandemic will not.” So lifting the measures and going back to normality must be the next step. Vaccination coverage must be ramped up and vulnerable groups must be protected to open up the economy fully and lift COVID-19 measures. 

Ethiopia faces multiple challenges posed by the conflict in northern Ethiopia and the slowdown of the economy exacerbated by COVID-19, drought and the war in Ukraine. According to my observations, in Addis Ababa, about seven out of ten people do not wear masks. This shows the lack of care in society. And for the regulations to be lifted, it is dependent on the will of the people.

Contributed by Bedilu Abebe

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