If you want to stay alive, stay home!

Updated: Apr 11, 2020, 09:44 IST | | Mumbai

With no known cure to date, we now know there is no medicine, vaccine or prayer to control Coronavirus.

This picture has been used for representational purposes. Picture/PTI
This picture has been used for representational purposes. Picture/PTI

As world leaders grapple with an enemy they had never imagined, an enemy that is invisible yet lethal and an adversary that travels across the globe without respect for powerful armies, borders or religious beliefs, the Corona pandemic continues its lightning march leaving in its wake grief, illness and death.

There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of even the biggest sceptic of modern medicine or science that the best way to fight this dreaded Coronavirus is to stay away from each other, safely ensconced at home. With no known cure to date, we now know there is no medicine, vaccine or prayer to control this pandemic.

In fact, the message is hence loud and clear: if you want to stay alive, stay home!

Back in history too when Black Death struck in the 14th Century, people had no idea what caused it and what could be done about it. It was blamed on angry gods, malicious demons or bad air. Mankind had no clue of the existence of bacteria and viruses then.

Similarly, leprosy a medical disease, has been given a religious hue since ancient times. It was linked with sin and divine punishment. Faith was reposed in angels and fairies to bail people out of medical crises. Mistakenly people looked upon religious leaders as healers. So when the Black Death or smallpox came visiting, the best thing the authorities could think of was organising mass prayers to various gods and saints. And such gatherings caused mass infections as little did people imagine that a single drop of water, a simple touch of the hand or a benign hug could carry an entire armada of deadly predators just like the novel Coronavirus .

Epidemics birthed religion

Some of the major religions of the world today emerged around the same time as widespread infectious diseases and epidemics, and there is reason to believe that the two helped shape one another. This kind of dogma persists even today.

A church in Louisiana, US continues to welcome thousands despite pastor Tony Spell being criminally cited for violating an order limiting the size of gatherings. "The virus, we believe, is politically motivated," Spell told a local television station. "We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says."

The Christian belief is that Jesus is a healer. Helping the sick was one way of ensuring a ticket to Heaven, so risking death from a disease's spread was of encouraged as long as you were helping someone. Likewise, Jewish doctrine has attributed death and disease to God's will and promoted the idea that only God can heal.

So also Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, who hosted the infamous Tablighi Jamaat at the Nizamuddin mosque and stubbornly held on to his belief defying the lockdown order by the Delhi government.

The truth is that Prophet Muhammed (PBUH ) actually taught cleanliness and hygiene prescribed by the WHO today, many centuries ago such as regular washing of hands , sneezing or coughing by covering your mouth , “Truly, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” (Quran 2:222) , he also said “If you hear that there is a plague in a land, do not enter it; and if it (plague) visits a land while you are therein, do not go out of it”.(Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim )

Similarly, temples in Ayodhya and South India have continued in some cases to have congregations defying the lockdown. In India thousands of Indians attended Holi festivities many, ironically wearing surgical masks despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion to maintain social distancing.

Hindus believe every thought, word and action accumulates karma, which can affect current and future lives. They feel, actions from a past life can affect events in the current life, including health and well-being.

Healthcare providers and policymakers should be aware that such strong beliefs can affect decision-making regarding precautions around healthcare.

We won't get into the merits or demerits of these religious beliefs as science and religion are a twain which seldom meet. Science demands proof and religion demands faith.

What is however wrong in the current scenario is the politicisation of this entire issue, calling it a religious battle ‘Corona Jihad’ etc and blaming an entire religious sect for the mistakes of a few.

As a surgeon and a man of science, not even for nano second will I condone what happened in Delhi. Especially since it has indeed proven to have seriously compounded the spread of the virus. But, the Pastor who became the fastest spreader of the virus in South Korea, Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus or Tony Spell the pastor in USA or the Moulana in Kuala Lumpur during whose sermon several hundred Muslims attended a mosque service and tested positive for Coronavirus or Suresh a man from Morena in Madhya Pradesh who returned from Dubai but infected many at a function called in honour of his dead mother, all are complicit irrespective of the religion they belonged to .

Were they all practising jihad of some kind? Nobody said so in South Korea, USA or even Malaysia. We need to get real. This pandemic is killing people irrespective of colour, creed or religion.

Religious groups with their power of control over masses especially in India can play a huge role is in providing charity services, including donating medical equipment to undersupplied communities and the frontline personnel. Multiple religious trusts in India like the Catholic charities in Italy are still ‘soup kitchens’ or supplying food or collecting funds to house the hordes of Indian migrants.

There are millions around the world who lack even basic healthcare. They are often most at risk from this pandemic which endangers all. If we start thinking about health in religious terms, we are doomed. Helping a Muslim afflicted by the virus today helps protect Hindus and Christians too from the scourge of the pandemic. This simple truth should be obvious to everyone. Unfortunately, it seems to escaping even some of the most sensible.

In this moment of crisis, a crucial struggle is playing out within humanity itself. If this epidemic results in greater disunity and mistrust among humans, it will be the virus’ greatest victory. When humans squabble, viruses double.

While medieval people never discovered what caused the Black Death, it took scientists just two weeks to identify the novel Coronavirus, sequence its genome and develop a reliable test to identify infected people.

During the last few centuries , scientists, doctors and nurses throughout the world together have managed to unravel the mysteries and untold truths behind the mechanism of epidemics and the means of countering them. The theory of evolution explained why and how new diseases erupt and old diseases were more virulent. Genetics has enabled scientists to spy on the pathogens own instruction manuals.

In the fight against viruses, humanity needs to closely guard its borders. But not the invisible borders that exist between religions . Rather those between the human world and the virus sphere.

If a dangerous virus manages to penetrate this border anywhere on earth, it puts the whole human species in danger. Over the last century modern healthcare systems have fortified this border like never before. However, every now and then a section of this border is breached exposing our human vulnerability.

What the Coronavirus pandemic has ensured is that the religious practices of hundreds of millions of people undergo profound changes. The crisis has prompted many religious leaders to appeal to their followers to not only take safety precautions but also to embrace their spirituality in isolation to help confront the health, social, and economic challenges ahead.

Unprecedented shrines like the Vatican, the Kaaba, the Golden Temple and Siddhivinayak Temple have since shut down but some hardcore believers have still not understood the potential lethal abilities of this virus and continue in the own merry ways like before .

All I can say is May their God Bless them with common sense. Science is fighting this war against the virus. Eventually when it wins religion will come out of nowhere and give all the credit to their respective GODs. Amen!

The writer is Chairman: Institute of Minimal Access Surgical Sciences and Research Centre Saifee Hospital, Professor Emeritus : Dept of Laparoscopic Surgical Oncology and Advanced Minimal Access Surgery, Topiwala National Medical College and BYL.Nair Hospital, Director: Digestive Health Institute , Mumbai, Hon Surgeon to the Vice President of India

The writer Dr Muffazal  Lakdawala is Chairman: Institute of Minimal Access Surgical Sciences and Research Centre Saifee Hospital, Professor Emeritus : Dept of Laparoscopic Surgical Oncology and Advanced Minimal Access Surgery, Topiwala National Medical College and BYL.Nair Hospital, Director: Digestive Health Institute , Mumbai, Hon Surgeon to the Vice President of India 

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