Globalisation of Disease
By Dr S.Saraswathi
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
US President Donald Trump is reported to have admitted that he would leave Americans stranded aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship to hold Coronavirus numbers static. Such is the fear of the disease that has gripped the entire world that the most powerful political leader in the world does not hesitate to express his inability to destroy the disease.
Authorities in Iran, where about 125 deaths are reported from this virus, have warned that they may use “force” to limit travel between cities. Iraq cancelled Friday prayers. Schools, churches and shops are shut down in northern Italy.
The WHO has declared the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and has warned nations of a “real threat” of a pandemic. It has urged all countries “to make containment their highest priority”. Globalisation is exhibiting its biggest and surest adverse impact on humanity and it is our misfortune that this is in the field of health and wellness. It is indeed the darkest side of globalisation.
The total number of cases tested positive in India has reached 45 by 10 March 2020 about three months after the outbreak of an unknown respiratory disease in Wuhan in China. The disease has spread to 95 countries across continents and confirmed cases exceed 100,000 presently. Over 3,500 deaths have been reported across the globe from 94 countries. Fatality risk is estimated to be 1% globally. It is highly possible that the actual number of the affected may be much higher than the reported.
Universal screening of passengers flying into India has commenced — a move never taken before. Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim governments banned entry of foreigners into the State. Quarantine facilities have been created in many railway stations. The virus spreads through contact with the affected.
This global illness is the biggest setback to world trade and global markets are feeling the pinch in the worst form. Safeguarding the future of global economy is now our priority. It is a lesson for all nations to promote local products and avoid total dependence on imports even for essential goods. Curbs are imposed on export of certain drugs.
An unexpected outcome of globalisation of this disease is an unmistakable trend towards de-globalisation in several international activities. Exports and imports heavily suffer with the rise of suspected case of the virus. The impact may be different between countries, but the chain effect of curbing the movement of raw materials and finished goods and the workforce will doubtless fall on all countries. Cultural and sports activities have to be postponed or given up, and tourism and hotel industries will have to face heavy losses. The possibility of holding the Olympics in Tokyo as scheduled remains in suspense.
Within countries, large gatherings are prohibited in many places. Work from home is opted wherever possible; schools are shut and examinations are postponed. In brief, life with normal activities is coming to a standstill as the virus is travelling fast. Protests and street level politics that openly defy governments and courts will have to bow before the virus and recede.
An encouraging fact is that in India, so far the affected cases are limited to those who have had some contact with affected people here or abroad. Many of them have recently travelled to China, Italy or Middle East indicating the need for preventing contacts. Stress is placed on hygiene, and frequent cleaning of hands with soap and simple advices about coughing and sneezing top the list of recommendations to fight a global disease.
The Health Ministry has an Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) network which traces people in contact with the affected. IDSP was launched in 2004 with the objective of strengthening/maintaining decentralised disease surveillance system for epidemic-prone diseases to monitor disease trends and to detect and respond to outbreaks in early rising phase through trained Rapid Respond System. Under this, data on epidemic-prone diseases are collected on weekly basis. However, in times of crisis, no human system, however rapid, is capable of overtaking the pace of air-borne diseases.
According to WHO, Coronavirus is not a pandemic now. A pandemic is worldwide spread of a new disease meaning an epidemic spread between countries. Medically, it is a disease that spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world.
It is explained that diseases go through some levels. The first is called “sporadic” when a disease occurs sporadically and infrequently; the second is named “endemic” when a disease is constantly and/or usually present in a geographic area and “hyper endemic” if the disease is persistent at high level; the third is known as “epidemic” if there is sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease much more than usual number in an area; fourth is “pandemic” which refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents affecting large number of people.
The Spanish Flu of 1918 is so far the deadliest pandemic that affected India as the worst in its history of diseases when it witnessed 10 to 20 million deaths as the focal point of the disease. There is no comprehensive study of this pandemic which affected India in two successive waves. Believed to have originated from influenza-infected troops returning home after World War I and spread among civilian population, the disease was uncontrollable in the absence of effective drugs.
Reports of Sanitary Commissioner at that time put the blame on the Railways for spreading the disease. Today also, we are in the same position and find travel and tourism by road, rail, air, and sea the major culprits abetting the disease. As associated with travel, hotels, restaurants, and large gatherings are considered the major transmitters of the Coronovirus. Following this, several advices are given on personal and environmental cleanliness, which must have been followed epidemic or no epidemic.
A century after the Spanish Flu, we are still vulnerable to diseases. But, today, we have excellent communication media to reach people. However, the danger of spreading falsehood and rumours and creating panic among people is the pastime of several groups which can create havoc in orderly life. We depend on medical experts to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary precautions and between authentic reports and exaggerated pictures of impending calamities to enlarge readership and viewership of the media. On the other hand, under-reporting by authorities to cover up deficiencies in their services is suspected to be the main cause for escalation of epidemic diseases.
What makes the situation extremely grim is lack of medicine to kill the virus. Medical research to find a vaccine for Coronavirus must be intensified throughout the world. Treatment of symptoms will not kill the disease. It is reported that Chinese health authorities are for use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in addition to standard medicine and a strong supportive system. TCM-oriented hospital is already functioning in Wuhan.
The disease now spreading faster outside China than in China, all countries must look for remedies in modern as well as indigenous medicinal system. Local remedies may work. —INFA