Visualizing the Pandemic Wave (s)

Source : https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/expert-view-the-pandemic-of-panic-caused-by-overwhelming-numbers-not-lethality-of-the-virus

The above picture refers to an Op Ed by a senior colleague , who is an eminent epidemiologist, and well known in academia. It is a very well conveyed perspective on the ‘Pandemic of Panic’ being reported everywhere ( I recommend a click on the link given below the above image to read through the write up).

We are constantly being bombarded with saddening images of public distress across India and accusatory media personages indulging in the blame game. If you would cast your memory back to the early days of the pandemic, ,you would remember that the coverage of the pandemic in Italy and in the USA was similar. Now it seems that the world media is fascinated with the Indian story, till something new comes along. In the modern times, everyone of us knows (or should know) that what we see on social media and the mass media is not what is and that what is , is not what we come to know of. Simply put, we have a large population, and we do not have adequate resources to match the requirements. This can only be addressed by advance planning and preparation over many years if not decades. However, it is never too late!

However, not to distract from the theme of today’s post! The one term that even a toddler in these times knows all about is – “The Pandemic Curve”. What with everyone wanting to flatten it, one can almost conjure up the image of homicidal burly people chasing some ephemeral curvaceous thing to flatten the life out of it.

This is how the chart showing cases in India and the USA looks like. if you see absolute number of cases only! Please note how it appears that India is having more of a problem that the other country with which it is being compared with. Our media prefers this format as it is more sensational. Please see the next chart which shows the same data as “Cases per million population” to see the difference the same data brings about when presented as per convenience of the presenter.

Source: Our World in Data website -Accessed 02 May 2021

The above two lines are for the USA and India respectively, and while you take a deep breath (yes, breathing deep is good for you at all times!), let me clarify that this data is representative of “Cases per million population” as on 01 May 2021. This is the preferred way to have a look at data, the way that scientists and epidemiologists do, (i.e to have a denominator, to lend perspective and ensure comparability between countries or regions). In the above case, population in millions is the denominator.

Source : Our World in Data website, with the labels added on for the viewer’s understanding

This image is for you to understand what these “waves” are all about…. You can straight off identify the ‘waves’ in USA…. and then look at the Indian wave(s) identifiable by the arrows. The data is “Incidence” i.e the number of new cases per day. You can see the shape form that the lines are conveying…. they look like waves dont they ? This is the ‘Epidemic Curve‘ , which is very happily referred to by everyone, when they talk about ‘flattening the curve’.

In the Public Health domain, those of us who are professionals and not WhatsApp experts or astro- forecasters, usually we cannot know whether we have crested the wave till after we have crossed it. To inform you, this kind of data is best looked at retrospectively. Data modellers who have proliferated during this pandemic, are amateur graphic artists who love to draw projections which progress beyond the curve…Their guesstimates are as good as a kindergarten kid with a crayon.

Now who can comment whether the curve will rise or fall at this point of time? That is conjecture and based on a lot of assumptions, most of which hindsight proves to be fallacious. Every wave has to have a crest. The crucial question is when will it be reached ? …

Data is only as good as what it can convey. Pragmatically, for an individual who loses a loved one, data doesnt make a difference. A loss is a loss, and requires our empathy. Lives in India are as important as Lives in the western world. This is what we must focus on going ahead.

Someone somewhere said this sometime “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” In this modern infodemic , everyone has an opinion. Mine is that we should be circumspect when we look at the data presented by Mass Media and circulated on Social Media. Rely only on authentic, verified information from credible sources. Peruse the interpretation of scientists and epidemiologists and then only form your own world view.

Published by Delta Zulu Consultancy

I am a Public Health Specialist with a passion for sustainable promotion of human co-existence with the environment! My areas of interest and expertise are Health Risk Communication and Community Engagement, Food Safety, Environmental Medicine and Mass Gathering Medicine. I believe in leveraging the power of technology to capture the imagination of people to inspire them to achieve their health potential, in a sustainable manner. I aspire to empower my partners and motivate stake holders to consistently seek 'work around' solutions, while hoping to achieve an utopian ideal balance.

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