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Deadly viral strains threaten humans. Are our health systems prepared?

Summary: In history, pandemics have reappeared to haunt mankind at regular intervals.

Farouk Araie

A hundred years ago, the human race was decimated by the flu virus killing over 100 million people. It was a graphic reminder of how vulnerable mankind is to infectious diseases. Through the centuries, man's greatest threat often has not been natural disasters or warfare, but the microscopic creatures with whom we share the earth. When epidemics break out, man has often been able to do little than let epidemics run their deadly course. Has the threat disappeared or is it lurking in the background, waiting to strike again?

In history, pandemics have reappeared to haunt mankind at regular intervals. The last one was the Hong Kong flu, which took place about 40 years ago. The next flu pandemic is statistically long overdue. The risk of emerging and new strains of flu viruses are much more higher due to the increased mobility of the world population today.

A long interval without epidemics brings complacency about new diseases. History records three great pandemics, (worldwide epidemics) in the past 2,500 years. Each ravaged nearly the whole of the inhabitated world.

Laurie Garrett, who won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Ebola Virus, wrote a best seller on new diseases. In her recent book about the emergence of diseases such as legionnaires disease, Aids, the Muerto Canyon Microbe, the Rwandan Cholera outbreak and others, she refers to opportunistic infections as ecological paybacks for our modern behaviour, flawed technology and the destruction of rain forests. Her conclusions cry out for our attention.

We tend to ignore history. We forget what happened only a few decades ago. We lack perspective. But in this modern world, changing at ever increasing velocities, this attitude can be fatal. Yet we still live with a Neolithic consciousness. Our sense of history is skewed and our understanding of the relative nature of threats is lacking. Because of this we are ill-prepared to face the coming biological storm.

Throughout history, infectious disease have been the great killer of humanity. Billions have perished, nations and entire cultures have been destroyed, untold lives have met with tragedy. Disease was the foundational terror of humanity. Infectious diseases are on the increase throughout the world. Pathogens are increasingly immune to current drugs and new drugs are no longer being developed at the pace needed. New pathogens are emerging due to human population growth and environmental degradation.

Nature continually throws challenges at human civilisations in the form of infectious diseases, the devastating diseases that periodically

emerge remind us how thin the veneer is that separates our high-tech society from personal and community disaster. Most people assume that medical science will shield us from disasters. We are more vulnerable than we suppose. The deadly march from war to famine to pestilence. Mankind is on the precipice.

The writer is a KT reader based in South Africa

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 23, 2018
Words:501
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