Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

The Mask Is For Covid What The Condom Was For HIV, Say Experts

A section of noted scientists believes that instead of preventing people from having any social contacts, it is advisable to take steps to make such contacts safe.

Representational image. AP

India for the second day in a row recorded a single-day spike of over two lakh Covid cases. The massive spurt in Covid cases has put states with high infection rates like Maharashtra, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh under pressure to impose a complete lockdown to break the chain of transmission.

However, a section of noted scientists believes that instead of preventing people from having any social contacts, it is advisable to take steps to make such contacts safe.

Dr Thekkekara Jacob John, noted virologist and veteran vaccine researcher, uses HIV analogy to get his point across to people and the government.  

“What did you want when HIV came? ‘no sex’ or ‘safe sex’ i.e. sex with a condom? People chose sex with condoms after a lot of persuasion. So, wearing a mask is a remedy, not the lockdown,” explains Dr John.

Even at the time of the first countrywide lockdown imposed in March last year, he had opposed it because he believes the absence of social contact is detrimental to the mental health of the people since human beings are social animals.

“We cannot live without social interaction. We are social animals. So why adopt a measure which makes people helpless to break or disobey? It is better that we should make them realize that universal mask-wearing makes social contact safe,” Dr John said.

Professor Vasanthapuram Ravi, a noted virologist, who is on the advisory board of the Sputnik V vaccine, agrees that complete lockdown is not a solution and it is impractical too.

Dr Ravi was Dean (Basic Sciences) at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), and worked extensively when the HIV virus spread during the late 80s and 90s.

“Force can’t change people’s behaviour. During HIV days, people were not ready to wear condoms like today they are not ready to wear masks,” he said adding that the only way was to educate people about safe sex rather than telling them to have no sex. 

Many health experts on HIV say that many people still don't use a condom and have unsafe sex but the government keeps on emphasizing the need for it even today. 

“I think partial restrictions are acceptable like a speed-breaker on the road to help slow the transmission. However, I don’t support any step that will hamper economic activity,” Dr Ravi said.

He also believes that if people don’t wear masks, vaccination is the only way to slow down the progress of the virus.

Another virus scientist Professor Ramaswamy Pitchappan—now a visiting professor at the School of Biological Sciences, Madurai Kamaraj University—advocates continuous efforts to encourage people to adopt appropriate Covid behaviour rather than imposing a lockdown.

“Lockdown would be an economic disaster. It may not serve the purpose. Everything should be allowed to function with reasonable restrictions,” Prof Pitchappan said.

Some health experts also said that when the first countrywide lockdown was imposed on March 24, the daily active cases were less than 100 and by the time the country started the unlocking process from July onwards the daily active cases touched the 20,000 marks.

“It suggests that that complete lockdown caused a huge damage on the economic front but literally it didn't achieve anything in our fight against the disease,” a senior government health official said.