The period lying ahead of us will serve to analysts from the Balkans and across the world to approach the situation caused by the pandemic more comprehensively and in the spirit of critical analysis. We will touch upon some of the segments of this crisis covered by the veil of a heroic and just battle for the public healthcare.
We would like to open some crucial issues that remain unanswered to date such as – for instance – how much is the vulnerability of human lives indeed determined by the virus and how much by utter sources of intolerable stress and rigid crisis management? Many dilemmas are still awaiting a referential answer based on empirical research.
Medicine's fiasco in the making
Long-term consequences of restrictive measures, carried out in line with recommendations of healthcare authorities, remain unclear. In his article published on March 17, one of the world's leading epidemiologists, the professor at the Stanford University, John P.A. Ioannidis, expressed suspicions over the risks of fatal outcomes i.e. over the mortality rate caused by COVID-19. This US epidemiologist says it is not known for how long could possibly the distancing and self-isolation measures last without leaving major consequences on the economy, society and mental health, adding that “the lockdown” along with potentially huge social and financial consequences could be completely irrational.
“In the absence of data, prepare-for-the-worst reasoning leads to extreme measures of social distancing and lockdowns. Unfortunately, we do not know if these measures work. School closures, for example, may reduce transmission rates. But they may also backfire if children socialize anyhow, if school closure leads children to spend more time with susceptible elderly family members if children at home disrupt their parents’ ability to work, and more. School closures may also diminish the chances of developing herd immunity in an age group that is spared serious disease.” (Ioannidis, 2020).
At the local level in Bosnia and Herzegovina, some doctors raised their voices – more intensively following the tragic death of epidemiologist Sefik Pasagic, which sparked reactions among not only professional but a broad social community. That was, namely, the death that was already listed in the mortality statistics of fatalities caused by COVID-19, given the fact that the repeated test showed the patient was positive for the novel coronavirus. While his death deepened the fear of citizens from corrosion that accumulated on Bosnia and Herzegovina's healthcare system, the patient's wife immediately expressed doubts that the healthcare system failed to work. One of the prominent Bosnian doctors, Kemal Dizdarevic, also commented on the case, warning in his article that “our doctor Pasagic is a victim (…) of the healthcare system and not of coronavirus.” Dizdarevic and many other doctors in the region and the world seeks the answers from competent authorities responsible for the crisis management. This medical worker claims that death came with coronavirus and not because of it.
“Many of them didn't develop any infectious disease but the virus was a trigger in worsening their current health condition. Or the virus presence was only incidentally proven. However, the cause of death by definition is only one. That defined cause actually launches a cascade of pathological events that lead to death. It seems like the virus has been recognised as a cause of death with many older patients as well as those with accompanying illnesses, although that was not the case. It is crucial to put the official data in the context of current global events and current political guidances.” (Dizdarevic, 2020)
The industry of the (i)llogical
Dizdarevic is not the only actor of professional, scientific and clinical-medical background who expressed suspicions over the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In neighbouring Croatia, it was internal medicine doctor, Lidija Gajski, who asked the competent authorities in that country the questions concerning the management of crisis caused by ongoing epidemiological situation. Soon afterwards, a ‘fact-checking’ institution labelled Gajski and the Medical Chamber accused her of putting in jeopardy people's health with her allegations. But, let's take a look at what was she talking about.
In a phone call we had with Gajski, she introduced herself as an internal medicine specialist, with over 30-year-long working experience. She deals with the criticism of modern medicine and its corruption link with industry and politics.
“Given the fact that the medical profession was the one to recommend the measures, it should provide answers to several questions. The first question I asked refers to the disease itself. From what I know, coronaviruses are not lethal, as media and professionals call them. Namely, every season we are facing new viruses which are continuously mutating – that's their natural state. And the fact that this was a new virus doesn't mean it was exceptionally perilous, and it particularly doesn't mean that it requires such strict measures that are usually not introduced in case of flu,” Gajski told N1.
Her second question referred to the validity of numbers of the infected and those who died. She claims the numbers are not valid because the number of the infected and fatalities depend on the number of those who were tested. Besides, Gajski continues, some doctors link the fatality in this pandemic with aggressive treatment. The death rate caused by COVID-19 is for now lower than the one caused by seasonal flu (flu takes approximately 250,000-600,000 lives a year), according to Gajski, which leads her to ask: what is so special about this virus to push the competent authorities into this rarely seen alarm and rigorous measures, so much different and opposite from the ordinary indifference towards the common cold?
The repressive scent of measures
Whenever a crisis emerges in society, it is necessary to reach out to the sciences that competently understand social circumstances, a possibility of social transformations and validity of the measures that the society should take. In an analysis that was made available for N1, Bosnia's prominent sociologist Salih Foco argues that insecure authorities reached out to radical measures of repression instead of a taking a humane stance towards citizens and their health. Repression, therefore, reflects in the restriction of the citizens’ right to the gathering, to work, to economic and production activities, to movement, etc.
“Those restrictions are counterproductive for the citizens and their health. (…) Instead of facing the current situation that emerged, the undemocratic and incapable authorities reached out to repressive power. Of course, the pandemic requires a series of measures but they have to be balanced and carried out under strict supervision of parliaments and structures of authorities that are controlled by democratic and legitimate representatives.” (Foco, 2020)
Psychology of fear – manipulation and obedience
Fear is induced in Bosnia and Herzegovina on a daily basis. War is being mentioned in political narrative weekly, while the topics of secession, referendums, arming and military drills are keywords in political press releases. Fear is a natural reaction in the society which, 25 years after the end of the war, does not have a database of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), its intensity or how many of those were provided with any psychological assistance and support. One does not have to dig deep into psychology or research to understand the concept where people who feel fear turn to those who will protect them from peril. And it happens too often in this country that the ones who create fear expressly arrive as protectors from the peril. Did crisis management groups, politicians and various experts, as well as collective health protectors increase the fear from the peril that they saved us from? The curfew, police cars, police sirens – are they triggering the feeling of safety or fear? Which order would we next obey in fear, if the authorities said it was a necessity?
The integral version of the analysis available in local languages (Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian) on this link.