Age of Pandemics

Are We Really Looking Forward to a New Age of Pandemics?

We have already witnessed what the first age of pandemics did. It was mainly due to the spread of infections through farming, agriculture, trade, travel, and cities. After witnessing a millennia of mass mortality events in the first age of pandemics, we have been quite successful in keeping the plague cycle at bay because of the rapid technological advancements and medical revolutions. The question arises – Are we going to enter the second age of pandemics with COVID-19? It can be avoided if we cooperate and respond well together.

The first age of pandemics

Here is a timeline of the major pandemics that have occurred in the past.

  • Antonine Plague – 165-180 AD

  • Japanese smallpox – 735-737 AD

  • Black Death – 1347-1351

  • New World Smallpox – 1520

  • Great Plague of London – 1665

  • Italian Plague – 1629-1631

  • Yellow Fever – Late 1800s 

  • Russian Flu – 1889-1890

  • Spanish Flu – 1918-1919

  • Asian Flu – 1957-1958

  • Hong Kong Flu – 1968-1970

  • HIV/AIDS – 1981-Present

  • Swine Flu – 2009-2010

  • SARS – 2002-2003

  • Ebola – 2014-2016

  • MERS – 2015-Present

  • COVID-19 – 2019-Present

Posing the risk of a new age of pandemics

  • We have learned a lot from the first age of pandemics. However, despite this, the world has responded poorly to the risk of outbreak of infections.

  • The risk of infections could be easily reduced by better sanitization of both human beings and animals.

  • One-third of the world’s population are still going out in the open and in fields for defecation and urination. This poses a great danger of contamination and diseases by the faecal-oral route transmission.

  • A lot of farm animals stand in close proximity with each other, and most often on piles of their own excreta.

  • Making things worse is that animals are being given antibiotics on a regular basis which poses the risk of bacterial resistance.

What went wrong in the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • With research and innovation, we are well placed to identify and respond to threats with better surveillance techniques.

  • However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of the world could not meet the minimum prescribed surveillance guidelines laid down by the World Health Organization (WHO).

  • Outbreaks like the COVID-19 could be effectively controlled through the use of testing, contact tracing, and isolation. However, in many countries like South Korea and Vietnam, these techniques failed to give the desired results.

  • Also, in countries like the United States, the thought of expanding the access to cost-effective COVID-19 test kits was started only after nearly eighteen months of the pandemic. The rapid spread of the Coronavirus infection amongst people in the US resulted in failure of the contact tracing efforts at the start.

  • With the present pandemic, we have witnessed that the world’s poor were the greatest sufferers as was with the earlier age of pandemics.

  • There was a tremendous shortage in production of vaccines, surgical masks, and diagnostic kits compared to the rapid demand globally.

  • Travel restrictions, lockdowns, social distancing, limiting contact helped to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus in many countries, but these proved really costly from the economic point of view.

  • Travel restrictions imposed in several countries did more harm than good.

  • There was chaos at airports with people running around here and there without masks, thus resulting in the spread of the Coronavirus even more.

  • What made things worse is putting restrictions on the pharmaceutical ingredients used for developing vaccines.

  • Also, focus was on the rich-countries with low-risk population being given one, two, and even three shots of the vaccine, before even giving the first dose to the high-risk population in developing countries.

  • This invariably led to more infections and deaths around the world.

What went right during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • The last two years have shown to the world that effective responses to infections can be developed in less time.

  • The first COVID-19 test was developed in less than a week’s time.

  • Countries like New Zealand showed the world that the combination of contact tracing, testing, and isolation can be effectively used to limit the number of cases.

  • The vaccine production cycle was reduced drastically from several years just to a few months through extensive research and innovation.

How are we placed at present compared to the earlier age of pandemics?

  • Compared to the first age of pandemics, we are better placed now.

  • Flattening the curve during the first age of pandemics would have made little sense as there was no infrastructure and medical treatment facilities available during that time.

  • With global cooperation, we can ensure universal access to basic healthcare facilities and sanitization. 

  • Testing kits and vaccines can be distributed to the developing countries first, especially those having high-risk populations.

  • Ignorance and miscalculation would allow the plague cycle to come back and haunt us, ultimately causing a lot of deaths and threat to human existence as well.

  • Keeping in mind the risk of a new age of pandemics, the European Union has proposed the creation of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA). 

  • We have the expertise, experience, and the technologies as well to flatten the plague curve permanently, without much damage to both life and economy.

Whether to avoid the new age of pandemics or enter it is totally dependent on how we act and respond.