Sunday, December 20, 2020

Mental Health of India’s Corona Warriors: An often overlooked aspect of the pandemic

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Raya Tripathi

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Mental Health of India’s Corona Warriors: An often overlooked aspect of the pandemic


Global Views 360

Publication Date

December 20, 2020


Mental Health Representative Image

Mental Health Representative Image | Source: via Freepik

It’s been almost a year since the Covid 19 first started spreading in Wuhan, China and spread to all parts of the world, turning into a pandemic. This has brought along with it an unusual situation for everyone around the world—people were locked up inside their homes and everything was shut. Only the doctors,  healthcare workers and other emergency service workers were working long hours, often going without proper sleep and food. Working day and night, like robots, is not natural for human beings, and therefore, has its consequences.

Mental health in India

Mental health of people is deteriorating globally, and the worst impact can be seen for the corona warriors.

Many people in India do not care about mental health and rubbish it off due to lack of awareness about the problem. They don’t consider it as a health problem just like any other illness, these are not much discussions or consultations with the experts, even when there is a clear sign of a person suffering from it. This state of affir is one of the major contributing factor for the high suicide rates in India.

The taboo associated with discussing mental health, dissuades the person who is suffering or their family members to discuss and take the help from experts as they fear that any revelation of mental health issues can tarnish their image in the society. There are still instances that people seeking professional help are labelled mentally weak or simply ‘‘mad’. Due to superstition still persisting in society, many believe mentally ill people to be 'possessed' by some evil spirit. This forces a large number of people to visit some Godmen or Exorcists to get it cured, rather than going to a professional.

This pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has exacerbated the mental stress and resulted in a spike in the instances of anxiety and depression among the population all over the world. The healthcare workers, fighting the pandemic in the frontline as Corona Warrier, are more exposed to the dangers associated with it. Although the frontline healthcare workers are now sufficiently protected from the direct impact of the virus, their deteriorating mental health still remains an unforeseen challenge.

What are the problems faced by corona warriors in India?

Healthcare workers are responding quickly and moving in vans in many places for testing the Covid patients. They are working hard to take care of everything from regular check- up to specialised testing for the ailing people. But, what about the physical and mental health of these health workers who are serving the patients with highly contagious disease, day and night, despite feeling homesick and tired.According to a report in Indian express, Dr. Kinjal Nadia, a doctor in Gujarat's Jamnagar, said, “Spending eight hours in a PPE suit is the toughest thing to do. One can’t even drink a glass of water though has to speak loudly to be heard by patients and assistants”.

There are incidents of suicide among thejunior doctors from AIIMS Delhi and RG Kar Medical College, Kolkata, which in itself describe the mental status of doctors and healthcare workers. Furthermore, around 80% of the doctors, especially younger ones, are at a very high risk of burning out due to constant pressure by the people, press and the administration to manage the extraordinary workload of testing, diagnosing, treating and curing  the patients, successfully.

In order to manage the huge influx of patients, at many places, doctors and healthcare workers are being hired temporarily, which acts as a catalyst for stress which they are already facing. This has also led to protests by the healthcare workers, including the nurses of AIIMS Patna, for making their employment permanent.

There had been a lack of PPE kits and proper protection against the virus for the healthcare professionals in many places, which increased the danger of exposing them to the virus and putting their lives in danger. There have been many incidents narrated by the doctors and the patients about dirty floors and filthy bathrooms in government hospitals of India.

A report on Firstpost mentioned about the usage of unhygienic food and dirty bed-sheets at government-run Kasturba hospital in Mumbai. An online petition against this situation had garnered over 100,000 signatures.

A news article from the New Indian Express tells that in Bengaluru, Dr. Manohar KN, with his colleagues, conducted a survey to assess the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the mental well being of the healthcare workers. Over two thousand doctors, nurses and technical staff, aged between 20 and 65 years, participated in this survey, which was conducted in 26 states and union territories of India. This incidentally was the largest survey of its kind in the world.

The most shocking finding of the survey was that the healthcare workers were mostly in a sad mood, and the most optimistic ones (around 70%) were also becoming pessimistic. Even after wearing heavy PPE kits, masks, gloves, face shields all day long, which in itself is exhausting, they were constantly afraid of catching the virus.

Even the families of these corona warriors are worried. Many of them have succumbed to the coronavirus while saving people from it. They don’t get to meet their families while working during the pandemic, and sometimes end up never meeting again.

Are there any mental health services in India?

India, at the moment doesn’t have adequate infrastructure to diagnose and treat the people suffering with mental health issues. also there are not enough organisations or programs which can help in raising the awareness and mitigating misinformation regarding mental health issues. The availability of psychologists in India is grossly inadequate to take care of the mental health of a population of more than 130 crores.

However, the wide adoption of online meetings during the pandemic has come as a big boost to increasing the reach of online psychological counselling through video conferencing. This has enabled the patients to consult the doctors and counsellors  remotely through video links, which reduced the chances of spreading the virus. But not everyone has access to such facilities.

What is the government doing about it?

The government issued a guide in April 2020 for general medical and specialised mental health care settings to be followed during Covid 19 pandemic and also launched a helpline for mental health issues during lockdown. However, when it comes to regular mental health care, India is behind most of the countries. If a country does not even have basic health care for each and every of its citizens, how can it provide them with ‘world class' mental health services?

According to WHO, India ranks second among countries with the greatest burden of disease for mental and behavioral disorders. Most of the mental health disorders go unreported, as people never let others know about it, because in India, this becomes a matter of shame and losing their pride.

Clearly, the healthcare professionals seem tough from the outside, and fight bravely, but on the inside, they’re struggling with their own issues which need to be attended.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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