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Guest Editorial

Innate human resilience and COVID-19

Help from an old friend to beat the new enemy

Ali, Mohammad Javed

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Indian Journal of Ophthalmology: October 2020 - Volume 68 - Issue 10 - p 2061
doi: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_2372_20
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Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author once said: “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance.” What she was referring to, in part, is the concept of human resilience. The noun “resilience” is derived from the Latin root word “resilire,” which means “to recoil or rebound.”[1] The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience “as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or threats.”[23] In short, a positive adaptation to an adverse situation, to mitigate the impact of risk on the outcomes. Resilience is an innate part of human nature and can be developed and utilized at any given point. The learning and development of resilience is ordinary and not extraordinary human behavior.[2] The phenomenon of innate resilience is not only in a psychological domain but may also have an innate physical framework in the brain, becoming increasingly evident with neurobiology studies.[34]

The Homo sapiens have rarely been threatened as much as by COVID-19, and have rarely been so vulnerable in their history on this planet. The threat involves global health and challenges human survival on multiple other fronts such as economic, psychosocial, and human relationships. On the other hand, human history is equally replete of instances on how the resilience of the species, individually and collectively, has helped to overcome the dire crises, and learn and grow. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic humans are facing, and for sure will not be the last.[5]

In response to COVID-19, human resilience has been demonstrated in every possible sphere of life. There are numerous examples of it at individual, community, country, and international levels. The global health structures, to begin with, were neither prepared nor could cope up with the overwhelming virus assault. The ingenuity of the healthcare industry, be it in innovating or mass production of personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, and ventilators, or low-cost alternatives, is laudable. Humans are fast learners. The lessons learned from New York experiences, Spain, and Italy were quite valuable for the rest of the world in dealing with COVID-19.[67] The efforts on healthcare fronts other than direct medical care of the sick, like research, community education, fast-track guideline formulations by professional bodies, development of drugs and vaccines, changes to regulatory approvals reflects a system-level resilience. Similar resilience has been demonstrated on economic fronts by incredible measures and relief packages announced by the individual governments. On a smaller scale, farm resilience is a good example.[8] Every day, the news is replete of the human spirit of sacrifice and human values of empathy, kindness, and altruism, reflecting the resilience in a different form again. The importance of shared human values in dealing with pandemics cannot be overemphasized.[9] Interestingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has prioritized “strengthening of resilience,” at individual, community, and system-level as one of the features of Health 2020.[10] Although this policy is in a different context, it can (in addition to other aspects mentioned here) have implications in the broader fight against COVID-19.

While it is essential to take the positives out of the resilience developed so far, individually and collectively, by the human race, it is equally critical to realize that this would not be without pain, emotional distress, and sacrifice. COVID-19 will keep pushing us to our limits and threatening us with overwhelming healthcare, economic, and psychosocial challenges. The primary key in dealing with COVID-19 is to believe in human resilience's fantastic ability to give an equal and opposite response to the virus assault. While there would always be enough negativity to speak about on all fronts, the humankind cannot afford that in its fight against COVID-19. The fundamentals of human resilience encourage us to direct our energies in objectively identifying issues, consolidating every small gain, and moving forwards, even if considered suboptimal initially.

While COVID-19 is a challenge of astronomical proportions, survival and thriving are so fundamental to the humankind. The resilience of human species has allowed it to survive on Earth, and develop fascinating mechanisms to manage future threats. Human evolution has progressed on multiple fronts, and crises have only served to accelerate this process. COVID-19, though an unprecedented adversity, cannot withstand the sustained assault of the collective innate human resilience.

1. Macmillan Dictionary. Word of the day: Resilient.Last accessed on 2020 Jul 21 Available from: https://wwwmacmillandictionaryblogcom/resilient
2. American Psychological Association. Building your resilience.Last accessed on 2020 Jul 21 Available from: https://wwwapaorg/topics/resilience
3. Yao ZF, Hsieh S. Neurocognitive mechanism of human resilience: A conceptual framework and empirical review Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16:5123
4. Kalisch R, Müller MB, Tüscher O. A conceptual framework for the neurobiological study of resilience Behav Brain Sci. 2015;38:e92
5. Morens DM, Daszak P, Markel H, Taubenberger JK. Pandemic COVID-19 joins history's pandemic legion mBio. 2020;11:e00812–20
6. Chokshi DA, Katz MH. Emerging lessons from COVID-19 response in New York City.JAMA 2020;323:1996–7
7. Minni A, Ralli M, Candelori F, Cialente F, Ercoli L, Parlapiano C, et al Lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic in Italy Bosn J Basic Med Sci. 2020 doi: 1017305/bjbms20204847
8. Darnhofer I. Farm resilience in the face of the unexpected: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic? Agric Human Values. 2020:1–2 doi: 10.1007/s10460-020-10053-5
9. Wolf LJ, Haddock G, Manstead ASR, Maio GR. The importance of (shared) human values for containing the COVID-19 pandemic Br J Soc Psychol. 2020;59:618–27
10. World Health Organization (WHO). Strengthening resilience: A priority shared by Health 2020 and the sustainable development goals.Last accessed on 2020 Jul 21 Available from: https://wwweurowhoint/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/351284/resilience-report-20171004-h1635pdf
© 2020 Indian Journal of Ophthalmology | Published by Wolters Kluwer – Medknow