The Pandemics that already killed billions of us

As we battle the Corona scare, lets remind ourselves that infectious diseases have been constant companions of humans through civilizations, even in modern times, the outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic proportions as the coronavirus has

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Saira Shah Halim
Saira Shah Halim
is a rights activist and an educator

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”-Charles Dickens (A Tale Of Two Cities).

Can there be a better juxtaposition of the times as we struggle between hope and hopelessness??

These past few months have been hard for India and the world at large.

As we battle the Corona scare, lets remind ourselves that infectious diseases have been constant companions of humans through civilizations, even in modern times, the outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic proportions as the coronavirus has.

With widespread trade and commerce, human and animal interactions with the persistence of diseases and pandemics since times immemorial, there has been only one trend that has remained a constant-a gradual reduction in death rate of humans.

Look at the irony of the times-Donald Trump who was facing an impeachment trial for abuse of power just a month ago, will now be lauded by the liberals and progressives for enacting war time powers that has killed many in the US already.

As the corona pandemic scare hits monstrous proportions in India, lets accept that “The fear, the panic surrounding the coronavirus is a bigger monster than the virus”.

Look at the irony of the times-Donald Trump who was facing an impeachment trial for abuse of power just a month ago, will now be lauded by the liberals and progressives for enacting war time powers that has killed many in the US already.

Infact the doomsday scenario is so unnerving that friends have starting commenting on any effort to deescalate-look at Italy, they were exactly like us, unnerved, going about their business, socializing, the messages on the phone and the media minute to minute forecasts on the corona virus isn’t helping either.

In times like this when people are calling it a life or death situation and people insisting that it is upon us, it seems that the world is already infected, we are finding it hard to deal with this information hoping against hope that somehow we wont get it.

Statistics say that on an average 2,20000 are reported due to tuberculosis each year due to tuberculosis which averages 18000 deaths in India per month by tuberculosis which clocks 600 deaths per day. Yes, per day!

As countries after countries got caught in the corona web past few weeks and political leadership hitherto played it cool, till the presidential first ladies and ministers started getting affected, its time to keep calm and use this opportunity to unite.

Yes at times like this its difficult to choose one’s battles;

Should we save our bank accounts?

Should we save our citizenships? or

Should we save our lives??

The present government has not given us a choice.

In times when we are so utterly despondent that  many of us are being trolled for saying that we have become morally corrupt or bankrupt, in our false sense of ‘national pride’ we are refusing to recognise the malaise.

One in three African children are stunted and hunger accounts for almost half of all child deaths across the world, as I write this a child dies every three seconds globally due to food deprivation that averages to 10,000 children everyday.

In Saadat Hasan Manto’s words “If we cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even want to cover it, because its not my job, that’s the job of the dressmakers”.

In such bewildering times its best to get a wake up call, not from drowning oneself in religion, but talking to a rationalist, why look further when one has such a person at home, my spouse Dr Fuad Halim who along with other medical practitioners is seeing so many sick and needy people en masse, doctors and health workers cannot close their chamber in times of a pandemic or a national health crisis or stop attending to patients. Science is the only God that can save us right now when all religious places are shut.

Seeing him in a calm mood I sought to know whether my fears were unfounded or not, what is the ‘actual’ situation? Anything to be alarmed about? Should I curtain the movement of our girls, at this point he asks me to check the number of deaths in India per month due to tuberculosis.

Statistics say that on an average 2,20000 are reported due to tuberculosis each year due to tuberculosis which averages 18000 deaths in India per month by tuberculosis which clocks 600 deaths per day. Yes, per day!

It is estimated that each year there are between 3 and 5 million cases of cholera in the world which cause more than 100,000 deaths globally.

Then the spouse Dr Fuad Halim asked how many people die in Africa due to malnutrition.

One in three African children are stunted and hunger accounts for almost half of all child deaths across the world, as I write this a child dies every three seconds globally due to food deprivation that averages to 10,000 children everyday.

We also need to reflect on how cinema and media views life.

Tuberculosis and its devastating affects was portrayed by Bimal Roy in ‘’Do Bigha Zameen” in the black and white era, even the most conscientious film makers and stars like Aamir Khan haven’t made a film on tuberculosis as its supposedly a poor man’s disease, he however did make a sensitive film like ‘Taare Zameen Pe’ on dyslexia.

Perhaps it’s a good time to read up about neglected tropical diseases which is a major public health problem globally as well as in India. These diseases are highly disabling and many are chronic in nature

Similarly polio has been eradicated due to the simple reason that the polio vaccine was not sold to the target group, these success stories and their absolutely helpless and impotent private sector response to the Covid-19 pandemic challenge today clearly underlines the fact that there is no alternative to a robust and deeply embedded public health system backed by solid and grounded policy prescriptions that are adequately funded.

Ebola is a neglected tropical disease, this NTD was recognised in 2014 and has already killed thousands of people, its tragic that the developed world in its smugness does not pay attention to NTD’S.

Presently another forgotten pandemic is Malaria, which affects 207 million people around the world, every 30 seconds, a child dies due to this pandemic disease somewhere in the world and more than 3400 millions of people are at the risk of suffering from it.

As if this wasn’t enough, one of the classic diseases related to poverty is cholera, if left untreated can cause death within hours.

It is estimated that each year there are between 3 and 5 million cases of cholera in the world which cause more than 100,000 deaths globally.

With the corona virus war, there are numerous examples where the lessons of the past are ignored, governments have often failed to anticipate and support citizens when these crises expose social inequality, the only way to respond is a collective call, have a socialist collective public health system in place.

Most of the NTD’s which are of pandemic form like cholera, malaria are eminently treatable and the treatment is exceptionally low cost, the only reason why human civilizational collective knowledge despite having the fruits of its intellectual capacities have not achieved the public health goals is because of market forces.

The political economy of public health could achieve its logical conclusion in the case of small pox because the science of giving every human the small pox vaccine was not allowed to be taken over by the market forces.

Similarly polio has been eradicated due to the simple reason that the polio vaccine was not sold to the target group, these success stories and their absolutely helpless and impotent private sector response to the Covid-19 pandemic challenge today clearly underlines the fact that there is no alternative to a robust and deeply embedded public health system backed by solid and grounded policy prescriptions that are adequately funded.

In the end I iterate that health in human civilizational experience cannot be left to the board rooms of profiteering, the science of disease does not allow it.

 

With inputs by Dr Fuad Halim

Dr Fuad Halim is a medical practitioner and a social scientist

Saira Shah Halim
Saira Shah Halim
is a rights activist and an educator

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