…If we learn from the Bubonic plague, Spanish flu, SARS, Ebola, et al


…If we learn from the Bubonic plague, Spanish flu, SARS, Ebola, et al

Thursday, March 19, 2020

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Given the propensity among human beings to compete, wage wars, and generally seek power over each other, it is a wonder that we continue to enjoy life as we know it.

But, every so often, a pandemic emerges that reminds those who have ears to hear that we have one Earth, one humanity, and are the same under the skin, despite race, culture, religion, nationality, or social standing. The latest is the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

The reaction to each pandemic tends to be almost the same, as nations overwhelmed by paralysing fears about the pandemic draw for beggar-thy-neighbour policies that, in the end, make us worse off than we were at the beginning.

Such fears and paranoia are irrational, yet this current world is the most equipped with the ability to fight off pandemics, except for our crippling individualism and rampant nationalism that often belie the valuable experience we have learnt from the past.

This is why we want to commend Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips for pointing to the potential assistance Jamaica can get from Cuba to help treat COVID-19, and the Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton for unhesitatingly embracing the suggestion.

The most important difference between COVID-19 and the previous pandemics dating back as far as Europe's Bubonic plague, which some love to call the Black Death, is that we have superior medical means of fighting back.

The Great Bubonic Plague, as it was also called, was one of the most terrifying of the pandemics, decimating Eurasia and Europe, with estimates ranging from 75 million to 200 million deaths between 1347 and 1351.

The Spanish Influenza in 1918 spread almost as rapidly as COVID-19, snuffing out an estimated 50 million lives and sickened about a third of the world's population, showing it was no respecter of persons by killing even young men in the prime of their lives.

Closer to our times, outbreaks of AIDS, SARS, H1N1, and Ebola, like COVID-19, have wrought heavy human casualties and threatened to upend the global economy. All have stoked fears, wild conspiracy theories and insecurity among mankind.

But how we deal with this current virus, by treating it as a wake-up call for the international community, will determine how quickly we bring it under control and whether we leave the world more or less prepared for the next pandemic.

For sure, we know very little about this new virus, which is the most important indicator that we need to work together to defeat its relentless march across the globe. China, having paid a blistering price in successfully battling the virus, can share with the rest of the world the successful formula.

The search for a vaccine is proceeding apace in the United States, Canada, China, and Cuba, among other countries. We would like to believe that all those countries would opt for co-operation by sharing data and not go for financial competition.

We believe that it would be extremely wise to allow the United Nations, through its World Health Organization (WHO), to lead and co-ordinate the effort to find this vaccine, as this would considerably speed up the process and minimise the tendency to seek one-upmanship among countries.

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