Omicron is the right choice

The point is not how to get cured, but how to live
Health workers in PPE kit carry the body of Covid patient at Ruia hospital, in Tirupati, on 11 May 2021. [File]
Health workers in PPE kit carry the body of Covid patient at Ruia hospital, in Tirupati, on 11 May 2021. [File]ANI

Hippocrates was a Greek physician popularly known as the father of medicine. He has said, “Those diseases which medicines do not cure, iron (knife/surgery) cures; those which iron cannot cure, fire (fever therapy) cures; and those which fire cannot cure, are to be reckoned wholly incurable.”

Treating the symptoms is different from treating the disease. Despite all advances in medical science, there is a whole host of diseases ranging from common cold to cancer that are still incurable.

Covid is likely to be a new entrant in that list and we may have to learn to live with it as with others. The point is not how to get cured, but how to live. We have learned to be more hygienic.

We have learned to be distant and decent. We are out of crowd and in the queue. We have learned to be in order. We have also learned a great deal of Greek alphabet, by the way.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 26th November 2021 chose to name the latest covid variant as Omicron. This is the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet and its numerical value is 70. It is preceded by the alphabet Xi.

The word omicron contains three syllables and it does not roll off the tongue as easily as other names, like Beta and Delta do. However, WHO has said that it missed out ‘Xi’ because it is a “common last name” and it did not want to offend anyone. A more open secret is that it would have in particular offended the Chinese president.

So from covid crisis, we have also learned not to be offensive and that is great. Moreover a previously obscure letter from the Greek alphabet has got the public attention and that is also great. There are a few more things and far more important that follow as learning outcomes of the ongoing crisis.

The advent of COVID-19 has occasioned some urgent observations. Firstly, a pandemic is not a law and order problem, therefore it cannot be placed in the basket of executive only.

It is not a routine public distribution of goods and services but an out of box challenge, the solution or end of which if any, will be reached by the researchers only.

That is why we have been watching all these 3 years that the prime time TV debates are being engaged with virologists, doctors, data scientists and chemists. They alone seem to be relevant.

Though the figures of the medic and the scientist are emerging as much-celebrated character, and saviours of some sort, the fact remains that growth of sciences is handicapped in our part of the world.

It is high time to learn that goldsmiths do not substitute for blacksmiths. Sciences need to be privileged. Technologies need to be prioritized. Bureaucracy needs to be tinged with technocracy.

The jobs in industry, technology, artificial intelligence, healthcare, education, research and innovation need to be glorified to attract the brainy guys. Ignorance of science is no longer a choice. It is not just medicine and epidemiology that have become central to our thoughts in recent weeks, but quantitative science, too.

Science is the greatest collective endeavor. It responds to the societal needs and global challenges such as climate change, ocean health, biodiversity loss and freshwater security.

India now ranks 46 among 50 countries in the Global Innovation Index (GII) which is an improvement from the 48th position in 2020. Though we have been better off with the situation but we could have been doing far more better.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), government of India, released its fifth science, technology and innovation policy (STIP) in January last year. The document is 62 pages long and is divided into 11 chapters. It was also kept open for public feedback.

It contains nice innovative ideas and scientific proposals but the fact remains that our Gross Domestic Expenditure on research and development (R&D) is low in comparison to the developed nations and most of the developing countries.

There is no indication of why this is so. Merely saying that this will no longer be the case doesn’t mean much. We cannot beat our contenders with verbosity only. As for instance, the point is not that China is caging the infected people in steel containers; the point is when did the containers get ready.

What kind of men and machine do they have? Do they have a storehouse of solutions, ever ready and all out! Where does it come from? It all comes from the technology driven curriculum right from the schools. China is very good at it. We need to get better at it, too.

We still gauge the intelligence of our child by the factual stuff he carries in his head while as in China, a child cannot pass the middle school unless he is able to design a Daniel cell.

The same machine learning has paid them well in the long run. We can also make efforts for a resurrection of interest in sciences in our kids too. Let us recall some past glories to take inspiration from. One such example is Ali ibn Sina popularly known as Avicenna in the west.

Over 10 centuries ago, the father of modern medicine and polymath Avicenna unlocked the nature of epidemics. He discussed this in his seminal book, “The Canon of Medicine” which remained a medical authority for centuries. It set the standards for medicine in Medieval Europe and the Islamic world and was used as a standard medical textbook through the 18th century in Europe.

As someone has rightly said, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. So I ask, is there another Avicenna in sight?

Dr. Qudsia Gani, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Cluster University Srinagar

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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