Issues related to the aftermath of COVID-19 are tricky because of the many variables determining the speed of the planet’s recovery from the pandemic. The unknowns surrounding the full impact of the global public health emergency, such as on so-called lost generations and the brain drain, are damaging as we try to assess the future economic and social requirements and reform.
Focusing on brain drain, we know that, in times of warfare and economic disparity, knowledge “escapes” through this phenomenon. Brain drain is defined as human capital flight and it is having a strong impact on the “COVID-19 decade.”
It happens when a situation develops whereby many or all of the intelligent, skilled or capable people within a given field or geographic region leave the area or — particularly in the case of COVID-19 — are unable to perform their job. The brain drain refers not only to education, but also to the dumbing down of human society, where escapism replaces fulfilling social and economic requirements.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is having long-term health impacts that go far beyond the patient. Long COVID-19 and other maladies with cognitive impact are causing brain drain. The virus’s long-term impact on humans is literally a case-by-case study. Scientists have documented that people with long COVID-19 can suffer 203 different symptoms across 10 body systems. It has been proven that chronic, low-grade inflammation caused by infection can turn into a silent killer, as it contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and other conditions. Medical surveys also show that memory problems and cognitive dysfunction are the most persistent and pervasive symptoms and are equally common across all age groups. Scientific findings such as these illustrate what is likely to become a deep tear in the fabric of societies’ demographic requirements in terms of future recovery plans. Hence, scientists want to treat this time period as the COVID-19 decade.
As the pandemic progresses, there is growing awareness that a third of people who test positive for COVID-19 and were not admitted to hospital for treatment do not fully recover for three months afterwards. They suffer from symptoms including cognitive difficulties, fatigue and breathlessness. Brain fog is the most common symptom described by people with cognitive dysfunction following COVID-19 illness. Those exposed to the pathogen may have in front of them life-changing challenges that snowball the longer the pandemic continues.
Brain fog can feel similar to the effects of sleep deprivation or stress. It is not the same as dementia and does not mean structural damage to the brain, but it does have a damaging impact on productivity and deeply affects family and social environment factors at a critical time.
Global education is at risk due to the pathogen’s impact on thinking skills, as well as the competing ideologies over what policy steps need to be taken by governments and health officials. The education environment is damaged at every level by the pandemic, with many students set to show brain fog symptoms. This means that 14 years of human thinking and development could be lost. This demographic time bomb needs to be fully investigated now so that the rolling impact of possible brain drain from the pathogen doesn’t resonate after 2030.
Older adults also sustain cognitive deficits after critical illness, particularly those with comorbid diseases. This affects families and stresses healthcare facilities, particularly in communities with high infection rates. The rolling impact of long COVID-19 on older adults also adds to the brain drain crisis. Long-term recovery becomes a real challenge.
The sum total damage to the human psyche done by the pandemic will not just go away overnight, as some policymakers and pundits would have us believe. Those who are affluent enough in this new environment are consuming themselves with the metaverse and bitcoin. Their lives are shifting into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, while others are left behind.
This factor raises a question that needs to be urgently discussed: What is our daily life going to look like in 2030 in terms of the disparity caused by the demographic time bomb resulting from COVID-19. The suffering of today’s children and young adults in full-time education will have a dramatic impact on the overall scope of societies’ brainpower. These are long-term problems that affect critical thinking at a time when deep thinking and problem-solving are essential.
• Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @tkarasik
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