Global Health Crisis: 1918 or 2019? The flaw in our desires.
By Dr. Muhammad Hashim Ghouri, Mayo Hospital More than 100 years and yet we face a pandemic that devastates the state of global normal affairs. A young physician was told, he should learn how to build coffins when asked what he should prepare to go and assist with the pandemic and for the war effort in 1918. The Spanish, a noncombatant state in the World War 1, noticed the Spanish flu in February of 1918, hence the name. Whereas the combatant states were the ones that suffered most due to the deadly Influenza virus H1N1 and yet refused to have cases. Infecting just over a period of 1 year 2 months a third of the world’s population at that time. Killed more people than the World War I, II, Korean, and Vietnam Wars combined. Sadly enough, as soon as an epidemic crosses borders of a country, it becomes a pandemic, and the world health authorities are high alert. The history of pandemics dates earlier than 430 B.C. and yet one of the most devastating health events recorded in the world history has been the Spanish flu in 1918. Superimposed with the successive waves of the pandemic caused by a new strain each time. What makes a pandemic worrisome is the limited time frame to understand the cause, the rapid increase in suspects and deaths, as well as the depleting resources whether healthcare workforce or hospital care appliances. What makes the pandemic last longer is realizing what factors would flatten the curve and taking on board the general population to strengthen the implementation of selected measures. Moreover, the public disbelief in a certain disease until it hits their vicinity poses detrimental effects to all efforts made by any particular state. Besides all these factors faced by the world at any particular time, there are various other factors that make the response time and efforts count. Had the world known what a virus is in 1918, the health authorities would have better dealt with the Spanish flu pandemic as compared to COVID-19 pandemic. Early 19th century was the dawn of modern medicine, viruses were yet not discovered hence the flu treatment, prevention and the understanding of its transmission was out of question. Whereas today, when the world has been exposed to multiple waves of respiratory pandemics COVID-19 despite not having its vaccine or treatment was able to reduce transmission, prevent deterioration with already existing medications, literally coexist, and cooperate with the measures taken by the governments. Moreover, 1918 was the earliest stage of industrialization with an ongoing “Great War”, also known as ‘the war to end all wars’. Cold winters, crowded camps, troops shifting from one camp to the other, consumed governments, exhausting economic resources and the dwindling fate of certain states after a 4-year long war effort. More than 30% of doctors and nurses working for the military, which left hospitals and clinics, understaffed when the pandemic hit. Terror upon terror, struggle upon warfare, deaths upon deaths. Only palliative therapies that included turpentine and beef tea things were mainstay treatment, which could have caused more harm than actually helping. The world starting knowing about the ‘Purple death’ developed from the most vicious type of pneumonia. Cyanosis spreading from the ears to all over the face until the white were undistinguishable from colored men. To explain this disease to general people these pictures were created in the era of little technological advances where social media communication was meagre. Having no coffins and the picture of bodies stacked in morgue from floor to ceiling looked as fierce as cordwood. The high fatality three pandemic waves with an estimated 50 million deaths globally and an overall depressed average life expectancy by 12 years had stunned the rapidly advancing world and paralyzed the most modernized systems. Today the world is going through a similar pandemic yet in far better circumstances. We have no war to exhaust human or economic resources, rapid social media communication with people, far mechanized medical resources. We are aware of the existence of the viruses and possess certain antiviral treatments and by far the most important fact an extensive experience with respiratory pandemics. Alas, the world suffered massive human life loss. At the hand of cooperation, lack of multilateralism and global governance. Many nations outperformed others in containing the pandemic and preventing as great a loss as others by exercising essential measures. The fragmentation and polarization more than 100 years ago that led to the great war itself had been the center of reasons that failed countries at COVID-19 pandemic. In this rapidly developing world where multi-polarization for the sake of personal development has refrained us from executing global preparedness despite the experiences and individual preparedness of epidemics and even pandemics. To have a peace and secure world necessitates unity and solidarity. To limit the pandemic and its causalities entails cooperation and global preparedness. Are we ready to accept and coexist for the sake of the world?