Contemporary social challenges and COVID -19

We are facing a global health crisis, one that is killing people, spreading human suffering, and upending people’s lives. But more than that it is a human, economic and social crisis. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has been characterized as a pandemic is attacking societies at their core. It’s a time for inclusive social development and monitoring national and global socio-economic trends, identifies emerging issues, and assesses their implications for social policy at the national and international levels. The COVID-19 outbreak affects all segments of the population and is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups in the most vulnerable situations, continues to affect populations, including people living in poverty situations, older persons, persons with disabilities, youth, and indigenous peoples. And if not properly addressed through policy the social crisis created by the COVID-19  it is bound to increase inequality, exclusion, discrimination and global unemployment in the medium and long term. Comprehensive, universal social protection systems, when in place, play a much durable role in protecting workers and in reducing the prevalence of poverty. This is a matter of basic human solidarity. It is also crucial for combating the virus. This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable.

Care of older persons

Older persons are particularly susceptible to the risk of infection from COVID-19, especially those with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They are not just struggling with greater health risks but are also likely to be less capable of supporting themselves in isolation. Although social distancing is necessary to reduce the spread of the disease, if not implemented correctly, such measures can also lead to the increased social isolation of older persons at a time when they may be at the most need of support. In this pandemic, the older persons may be viewed as weak, unimportant and a burden on society. Such age-based discrimination may manifest in the provision of services because the treatment of older persons may be perceived to have less value than the treatment of younger generations. International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates Governments to take steps to provide medical care to those who need it. In this context, solidarity between generations, combating discrimination against older people, and upholding the right to health, including access to information, care and medical services is key to a balanced social order.

Challenges before disables

Even at the best of times, persons with disabilities face challenges in accessing health-care services, due to lack of availability, accessibility, affordability, as well as stigma and discrimination. The risks of infection from COVID-19 for persons with disabilities are compounded by other issues, which warrant specific action: disruption of services and support, pre-existing health conditions in some cases which leave them more at risk of developing serious illness or dying, being excluded from health information and mainstream health provision, living in a world where accessibility is often limited and where barriers to goods and services are a challenge, and being disproportionately more likely to live in institutional settings. General individual self-care and other preventive measures against the COVID-19 outbreak can entail challenges for persons with disabilities. For instance, some persons with disabilities may have difficulties in implementing measures to keep the virus at bay, including personal hygiene and recommended frequent cleaning of surfaces and homes. Cleaning homes and washing hands frequently can be challenging, due to physical impairments, environmental barriers, or interrupted services. Others may not be able to practice social distancing or cannot isolate themselves as thoroughly as other people, because they require regular help and support from other people for everyday self-care tasks.

Image source: India Today

Problems of youth and indigenous people

Many governments have called on the youth to embrace the effort to protect themselves and the overall population. Youth are also in a position to help those who are most vulnerable and to aid in increasing public health social awareness campaigns among their communities. Thus, youth are critical to limiting the virus’s spread and its impact on public health, society, and the economy at large. In terms of employment, youth are disproportionately unemployed, and those who are employed often work in the informal economy or gig economy, on precarious contracts or in the service sectors of the economy, that are likely to be severely affected by COVID-19. More than one billion youth are now no longer physically in school after the closure of schools and universities across many jurisdictions. The disruption in education and learning could have medium and long-term consequences on the quality of education, though the efforts made by teachers, school administrations, local and national governments to cope with the unprecedented circumstances to the best of their ability should be recognized. Many vulnerable youths such as migrants or homeless youth are in precarious situations. They are the ones who can easily be overlooked if governments do not pay specific attention, as they tend to be already in a situation without even their minimum requirements being met on health, education, employment and well-being.

Tribal women wearing masks made of palm leaves during the pandemic

Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable at this time due to significantly higher rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, lack of access to essential services, absence of culturally appropriate healthcare, and if any, under-equipped and under-staffed local medical facilities. The first point of prevention is the dissemination of information in indigenous languages, thus ensuring that services and facilities are appropriate to the specific situation of indigenous peoples, and all are reached. The large number of indigenous peoples who are outside of the social protection system further contributes to vulnerability, particularly if they are dependent on income from the broader economy – produce, tourism, handicrafts and employment in urban areas. In this regard, Governments should ensure that interim financial support measures include indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups. Indigenous peoples are also seeking their own solutions to this pandemic.

Imagine the day after Covid-19

Humankind is going through a humanitarian revolution and it is the predominance of new technology and the supremacy of modern means of communication, which have spawned a conflict between two major concepts of using the internet. The first can be described as social perception with a human connect, while the second is non-social perception, and can be termed as wild and unbridled. The humanitarian-minded perception is likely to win this conflict, as this human revolution is making its mark on our social existence and old behaviours. This will impact the current value system and will have political and economic implications. The post-epidemic stage will see the emergence of a new human being, whose daily behaviour and thinking will differ from what it was before the Covid-19 outbreak. The political, legal and economic systems will have to adapt to this new human being. Despite the timely importance of the current safety measures being put into action around the world, there is a great need for these to be integrated into comprehensive post-pandemic thinking. In fact, we will find ourselves faced with a generation who thinks differently from the pre-pandemic generation. However, the pandemic will succeed where the other movements of the 20th century have failed in their struggle to establish democracy and human rights, and preserve a safe environment for all.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Dr Rajkumar Singh

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is presently Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Dean of Social Sciences at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. His 19 books published in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers from 25 foreign countries.

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