I read my Bible regularly and that Book of the Philosopher known as Ecclesiastes, verse 15 of the third chapter confirms what we all know: Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same things happen again and again.
While I was reading about pandemics under Medical history and Ethics , I found out that influenza pandemics had occurred regularly every 30-40 years since the 16th century and the question that was always on people’s minds was: When is the next one?
The most deadly Influenza Pandemic of modern times was the Spanish one of 1918-1920. It did not originate in Spain but the 1st World War was raging in Europe from July 28th 1914 to November 11th 1918. The influenza pandemic was spreading quickly in war- ravaged Europe and regulations did not allow journalists to talk about the pandemic but Spain was a neutral country in that war so its journalists could report freely about the pandemic and its economic effect on Spain. This is why it was called the Spanish Influenza. Investigative research later suggested that it could have originated in Kansas, USA in the spring of 1918. It spread quickly to Europe, North Africa, India and Australia.
The movement of people and the military during the war, the poor food supplies, and the malnourished state of the people, facilitated the spread of the virus. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic is believed to have caused 500 million infections and killed 50 million of them. It killed people mainly between 18 and 45 years of age. The death rate of 2% caused great economic disruption and decline. It was declared a global public health problem and guidelines were put in place to contain it.
The main focus was on Prevention and Control of the spread of the pandemic by :
- Identifying the classic symptoms and alerting the public
- Obligatory confinement of suspected cases followed by tracing their contacts and quarantining them.
- Symptomatic treatment of cases – many of the patients died of pneumonia caused by a bacteria in lungs already weakened by the virus infection.
- Closure of all public places and stopping all public gatherings and congregations.
- Minimising travel and quarantining travelers from areas where there were outbreaks of the infection.
- The people were given the right information and empowered to take on their individual responsibilities of keeping themselves and others safe.
After this unprecedented pandemic, many lessons were learned from the mistakes and what was done right. Public health was strengthened and Essential guidelines were developed which are still being used today to fight pandemics
Coronavirus disease – COVID-19
These are different times ; we are living in a well-connected world ,connected through quick modes of transportation like aeroplanes, trains, marine, vehicles on connected roadways. We are living in the science and technology –driven 21st century. The Internet allows the generation, analysis of data and transfer of it over networks. People can easily influence each other.
Since the Spanish flue pandemic, there have been many medical advances in the diagnosis , management and control of common diseases and new ones like SARS and Ebola.
By April 1948, the United Nations had established the World Health Organization(WHO) as the co-coordinating and authority on International Public health and one of its main functions is to fight diseases and to stop them from spreading.
WHO declared COVID- 19 as a public health Emergency on the 30 th January 2020. The Corona virus is a new virus, it is a respiratory virus, has no treatment or vaccine and no one has immunity to it. The first cases were reported by 27th December 2019 as mysterious pneumonia cases in the city of Wuhan, China. Available records of last week from Wuhun showed 81,470 confirmed cases, 75,770 recovered and 3,304 deaths. Wuhan Province has been in total shut down for eight weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus to mainland China and other countries of the world.
The first case was confirmed on 21 st March 2020 and immediately, some restrictions to movement and to public gathering and congregation were put in place for at least 32 days.
The Ministry of Health has done a commendable job in educating us about the new disease, how to protect ourselves and others and what to do if you suspect you have the main symptoms and how to boost your immunity to infections.
Daily updates on the progress of the pandemic at home and worldwide keep us on the right path and empower us to do the right things during this period of uncertainty. I only hope that we are being told the truth about the spread of this invisible killer.
As of today 30th March, 33 cases have been confirmed at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe. They are all imported cases- people who travelled and returned home from countries like United Arab Emirates. Thankfully, the virus has not yet spread into the Community. This must have dictatated the total lockdown declared by the president last night and being effective from 10pm. Uganda is a developing country, has limited resources, if the virus spread into our community fast, the numbers of patients would definitely overwhelm our fragile health care system. The fact that 78% of our population is under the age of 30, could be an advantage to us and so are the lessons learned from having lived through and controlled the Gulu Ebola epidemic of 2000, of the west in 2007 and the Luwero outbreaks of 2011 and 2012. They say that what does not kill you makes you stronger and wiser.
We are following the WHO guidelines to the letter: early detection by quick testing and quick isolation followed by contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus together with the provision of Protective personal equipment to the health workers on the frontline.
The most vulnerable among us like the elderly, those in self –isolation, those on HIV /AIDS treatment will need to be supported by the government through this pandemic. No doubt, the lockdown will shrink the economy and family incomes but staying healthy takes the priority for now.
Being in the high risk age group, I have not left home since the declaration of the first restrictions on 21st March. I cannot thank God enough for giving me this opportunity to be with my octogenarian mother during this unprecedented situation. It has allayed our anxiety and fears. But as a typical Ugandan family, our close relatives are scattered as far as Australia, Canada, UK, Sweden, Italy, USA, Kenya, and Cape Town, South Africa. We are closely connected on Social Media and mobile phones. We are asking two questions: When will it end? and Will life ever be the same again?
As a health worker, I find it extremely disheartening to see what is happening in hospitals in Italy. I pray that it does not happen elsewhere.
South Korea is a notable example of a country which slowed down the spread of the virus without applying the strict lockdown strategies taken elsewhere. In January, the country quickly confirmed that they had some COVID-19 cases and immediately restricted movement while testing widely and aggressively. They isolated the cases and quarantined suspects. They used digital technology like mobile phones, ATM cards to trace contacts. It reduced the spread of the virus without lockdown .
The reopening of Wuhun, a Chinese city of 11 million people after eight weeks of total lockdown gives us some hope.
This global pandemic is reminding us of how interconnected we are to each other and that we can only defeat the virus if we engaged and worked collectively. Each one of us has a small role to play that fits in the big picture.The reality is that drugs have to be developed, tested and approved for use in human beings. A vaccine is likely to take 6-18 months to be developed but life has somehow to go on.
I for one have been reminded of not taking life and loved ones for granted and that I can only live a bigger life if I am connected to others. And that my health is my greatest wealth!
Life never ceases to surprise; on the 29th March 2020, BBC World service featured Bob Weighton of UK as the oldest man in the world. He was celebrating 112 years on that day. What was most interesting about him is that he had lived through the great Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1919 and was now locked down in his home due to the current CODIV-19 Pandemic!
As they say, it always gets worse before it gets better, we all need to prepare ourselves for the worst and to do everything possible to support each other through the pandemic.
“ May you see sunshine where others see shadows and opportunities where others see obstacles.- Unknown
Are you playing your role seriously in protecting yourself and others from this infectious virus?