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Migrant workers in India are dying

While the financial package announced by the Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi, is welcome, it will not usher an “Indian Century” as promised by the leader, nor will it assuage the traumatic impact on the people (“Coronavirus: Indian migrant worker Yaqoob refused to leave his dying friend Ramcharan by the roadside, dumped there because of fear of COVID-19”, www.gulfnews.com, May 17). India needs to bend down and tie its shoelaces to run better and faster.

Firstly, India spends less than two per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on public health, according to the latest National Health Profile (NHP) data. The US spends 18 per cent of its GDP, which is over $10,000 (Dh36,732), per person a year. There is also a desperate shortage of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds and ventilators. After the COVID-19 challenge, India should spend at least five per cent of its GDP on public health, to ensure adequate hospitals, beds, staff and protective equipment for its people. Nations spend billions of dollars on military expenditure every year. Fighting a contagious disease is an important battle too.

Secondly, in slum areas like Dharavi in Mumbai, the largest slum in Asia, there are five to fifteen people residing in small rooms. There are only a handful of toilets in the area, for a population in excess of a million. Dharavi now has about 1,000 cases of COVID-19. Social distancing cannot be practiced, due to the cramped conditions. About 900 million to 1.6 billion people across the world, live in slums and shanty areas.

For over two decades there have been plans to replace the shanty homes in Dharavi, with apartment buildings. They have not seen the light of the day. The economies of many large cities, is run because of people who live in such areas. Yet, the workers themselves stay in over-crowded, unhygienic conditions. Governments should prepare emergency five-year plans, to replace the slums with low-cost housing.

Thirdly, the heart-wrenching plight of millions of Indian migrant workers trying to get to their villages needs urgent addressing. Many of them have died because of the long journey on foot. Some have died because they slept on train tracks and met with an accident. It is traumatic to read these stories. There have been gut wrenching scenes of labourers, mothers carrying children, trudging to their homes on highways, walking sometimes 200 to 1,000 kilometres, over a period of eight to ten days to reach their villages. India should have planned for the mass transfer of these workers before the lockdown. Millions are still walking on the highways without food, water or shelter in the hot summer. A nation must look after its vulnerable sections otherwise people will lose hope.

From Mr Rajendra Aneja

Is COVID-19 making you feel anxious?

The spike in depression and anxiety around the world, during this COVID-19 outbreak, followed by the imposition of lockdowns in many parts of the world has caused people to panic even more (“How to prepare for second pandemic: of mental health”, Gulf News, May 14).

Ever since this pandemic has started, people have lost jobs and there is an uncertainty for the future. Most people are confined to their own homes and this has never been a practice. According to reports, it is estimated that millions of people have been affected by this pandemic and have depression as a result of it.

Untreated depression can drive people to commit suicide. It’s always better to treat the problem and rectify it in the initial stages. A lot of care and support is required from loved ones. The social stigma associated with people treated for psychological problems still prevails in some parts of the world. Those who undergo or have undergone treatment for any sort of mental ailment are often ostracised. This is one reason why families fear seeking medical advice for people with depression. An idle mind is a devil’s workshop, as the saying goes. Every time you begin to feel low, it’s always best to divert your mind to pleasant thoughts, listen to songs or positive advice from people online. Engaging oneself in activities like yoga, meditation can calm the mind. With technology so advanced, we can listen to motivational speakers on YouTube in the comfort of our room without having to venture out.

If we can control our own thoughts and emotions, we would never fall into this dark pit and can lead a happy life. We will overcome this pandemic very soon. Life is too short to be wasted. Let us try to be happy during this time.

From Mr Eappen Elias


Explaining the pandemic to children

This is a challenging time for one and all (“COVID-19: UAE expert tips to protect children from coronavirus, preserve immunity”, www.gulfnews.com, April 9). We all are praying for the safety and good health for people all around the world. Even children seem to be affected by the pandemic, and they show this through their behaviour. This is not a good sign. Even though every parent must be trying their best to make the children feel better and comfortable. Unfortunately, I had to face a similar situation, a few days back when my eight-year-old daughter had a strange reaction to our home-quarantine. Suddenly, in the middle of the night my daughter broke down. We rushed to her room to see her crying non-stop! We had to pester her about what was going on. The outburst was very scary for me, as I have never seen her in that state before.

She then started telling us that she did not like this lockdown and wanted to go out of the house. And like an adult, she mentioned that she had great plans for her upcoming birthday and insisted she wanted to go out of the house and meet her friends. It took us a while to explain to her and it was difficult to make her understand why it was impossible to go out or meet friends. It may not be a big deal but as a parent it did break my heart to see her like that.

I am still reeling from that experience, knowing that my daughter is otherwise a very carefree and calm child. What impact is this pandemic going to have on the mental health of children all over? After this COVID-19 pandemic is over, we will have to deal with multiple challenges. I hope we all come out of this tough situation unscathed.

From Ms Sujata Mattoo

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