It is high time that we conducted a COVID-19 infection survey

Tuesday, 11 May 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Rather than focusing on virus control, what is rampant in the country is the tug of war between Western and indigenous treatment methods with the blessing of certain politicians and professionals alike


By the time this article is penned, the number of COVID-19 infections in the world is reported to be 158 million with over 3.8 million deaths. However, it is so horrible that we know very little about the virus and no one knows the day the world can get rid of this pandemic. 

In the viewpoints of scientists, many assumptions made on the virus are nulled and new arguments arise day by day. Although scientists are struggling to find an effective vaccine to control the virus, the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 has been a great challenge. 

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is passing the darkest era of the virus spread with ever-increasing cases of infections. Even in terms of vaccinating people, there seem to be all sorts of trouble due to delay in proper decision-making and overreliance on so-called indigenous treatments. 

It is disgusting that such opportunistic cheaters are re-emerging and now it is a medical professional, who claims that he invented a capsule as a COVID-19 medication. Rather than focusing on virus control, what is rampant in the country is the tug of war between Western and indigenous treatment methods with the blessing of certain politicians and professionals alike.

We could see a plethora of health guidelines issued by health authorities from time to time in order to control the spreading of the virus. Wearing face masks, washing hands, or application of sanitisers were introduced as the basic protective measures that should be followed by people at the individual level. 

Closure of all educational institutes, limiting the number of workers at workplaces, restricting the number of passengers in public transport, restricting the number of attendees for various gatherings, so on and so forth are enforced as guidelines. Enforcement of quarantine curfew and isolation of areas where the virus is fast spreading could be seen as the ultimate control measures.

However, it is not known to what extent some of those guidelines except isolation help reduce the spreading of the virus. In the meantime, certain guidelines and measures that were implemented to control the spreading of the virus have affected the education of the children, the livelihoods of the people, and the economy of the country immensely. In the past, it was reported that people were mentally depressed due to prolonged lockdowns.

The number infected by COVID-19 in Sri Lanka passed the mark of 100,000 and it is about 0.5% of the population. From a statistical point of view, it is a good sample number for a survey on COVID-19 infection in order to reassess the effectiveness of existing guidelines. Therefore, the authorities who are dealing with the COVID-19 with the help of other relevant parties can conduct a survey involving those who were infected with COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. 

There are no arguments that the survey will be unorthodox due to the complexity of the nature of the virus nevertheless we may find some important clues. As the health sector already has the contact details of those infected, this could be done in no time with the help of field-level officers like Grama Niladhari in the public administrative setup. 

For example, the survey could try to find out whether the wearing of quality face mask properly could prevent the spreading of the disease as it is accepted to be an effective method of preventing the COVID-19 virus worldwide. For that case, the basic questionnaire should consist of more or less the following facts related to the practices of wearing face masks by those infected. 

  • Whether face masks were used by them

  • When and where face masks were used

  • Type of commonly used face masks (surgical, made of cloth, KN95, etc.)

  • Whether face masks were reused and how long

  • Level of awareness of face mask usage and importance, etc.

When the collected data is processed, much important information could be found on the way the face masks were used by those infected. If many of those infected have used face masks appropriately, we can come to the conclusion that wearing face mask alone will not reduce the spreading of the virus. If the case is the other way around, we can assume improper usage or non-usage of face masks have contributed significantly to those who got infected. 

If that is the case, we can promote the wearing of face masks as a pilot project, which should be implemented in a short time. Authorities should educate people more on the proper usage of face masks and people, especially those who cannot afford to buy, should be given free face masks of an accepted quality. If the rate of the virus spreading in the society is well decreased after the endeavour then the assumption can be validated that proper wearing of face masks can control the pandemic. 

Although the aforementioned is a rough outline of the contents and tasks to be implemented after the exemplary survey, it is the health authorities, which are well aware of and responsible for controlling the disease, who should draft the most appropriate questionnaire. 

The survey could ramify into behavioural patterns of those infected as well, as different countries experience the pandemic at different levels probably due to differences in sociocultural behaviours. In Sri Lanka too, there could be many clues regarding the sociocultural behaviours that caused people to be infected. For instance, in the early stages, we could see a fast spread of the virus among drug addicts. 

Eventually, the most important outcome of the endeavour is that we will be able to reassess the existing health guidelines and COVID-19 control measures that more or less suffer people and the economy at the moment. Further, there can be unforeseen areas that help spread the virus, and new guidelines to control the situation will be necessary until the world completely gets rid of this health disaster with the help of a vaccine. 

(The writer is a Chartered Civil Engineer.)


Recent columns