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KT edit: World better equipped to fight this pandemic

Filed on June 29, 2020

Scientists, governments, pharmaceutical companies, are more linked today than in 1918 to survive and beat this pandemic.

It is perhaps still premature to compare the current pandemic with the last major contagion that raged from 1918-1920. What was known as the Spanish Flu infected 500 million people and is believed to have claimed 20-50 million lives. In less than six months of this year, more than ten million people have been infected by the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Over 500,000 have died, and more than five million people have recovered from the disease. When the Covid-19 numbers cross a milestone, it is but natural to turn the pages of history for a better understanding of what is in store for humanity from the current pandemic. First, the differences: Covid-19 is caused by a coronavirus that has its origin in bats. It is more infectious than the virus that caused the Spanish Flu. Vaccines for viruses have been developed, but not for coronaviruses which makes this pandemic more complicated. Researchers are still studying its effects. What's similar is that both viruses and coronaviruses can be transmitted through respiratory droplets that land on surfaces. Contact drives transmissions for both the pathogens. Preventive measures that worked then are working now too and have helped immensely in limiting the spread of the disease. Communities have managed to keep cases down through social distancing, quarantining infected patients, shutting down schools and colleges, and taking personal hygiene seriously. The similarities end here. 

Now to geographical distances. Back in 1918, the world was less connected than it is today. Air travel across the globe is common and infections spread quickly. What began in China became a global problem in a matter of months when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. A century ago, commercial aviation was still in its infancy, hence the spread of the flu was limited to some extent, but that did not prevent high fatalities. The world today is more 'global', though countries have walled themselves out, albeit temporarily, to prevent a resurgence of cases. This is a globalised world where knowledge and expertise are freely shared. People can take consolation on that account. But it is important not to ignore the reality if we are to come up trumps: an effective vaccine for any coronavirus has not been developed yet. Therein lies the challenge. Coronaviruses are more virulent than other viral strains. Vaccines generally have taken 8-10 years to develop, and there is little clarity when one for this coronavirus will see the light of day. But researchers are racing against the clock to find a drug or a preventive treatment. Doctors are repurposing old drugs to fight this new threat to humanity and have met with some success. Reports say 120 clinical trials of vaccines are being conducted across the world. The UK has already begun phase 3 human trials and so have the UAE and China of another vaccine. A number of patients in the UAE have already benefitted from stem cell treatment. These developments are critical in our battle against the virus as countries fear a second wave of infections. The second wave of 1918 was more severe than the first. The world is a better equipped today to combat a coronavirus second wave, if that indeed happens. Information is easier to access online. People work digitally and apps help us stay away from danger zones or emerging clusters. Scientists, governments, pharmaceutical companies, are more linked today than in 1918 to survive and beat this pandemic. But it will take more than such linkages to keep us safe till a vaccine or cure is found. A common sense approach dictates that people step out only for work or to purchase essentials, armed with masks and gloves. Information and knowledge are power against this pandemic for now. They could mean the difference between life and death. 


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