For humans, an outbreak of a new strain of influenza can be relatively predictable.
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Each year, rates of influenza go up and people become more receptive to the illness. We have the knowledge and expertise to know when it will come and the drugs to treat it with. With a pandemic, the ability to predict the timing of an outbreak is much more difficult, if not impossible. Over the past few centuries, human kind has fallen ill to nearly ten pandemics, happening within the span of just a few years to many decades in between each respective outbreak. In the midst of COVID-19, These feelings of unknowingness and ambiguity are just as foreign as when pandemics arise themselves. And this is being reflected in how different countries are being affected and how they are responding.When comparing the global north to the global south, two interesting trends seem to emerge: in general, the global north is experiencing more rates of infection than the global south- a pattern that is virtually swapped in every other worldwide disaster or trend of catastrophes. Global outbreaks of disease, war, corruption, and terrorist attacks plague the global south, not Europe or the U.S. The second trend has to do with attitude in response to the outbreak, that extends past any one individual, community, or population. As fast as COVID-19 has sprung in the developed world, so has fear, lodging itself into our frontal lobe faster and more prevalent than the virus itself. With the arrival of the virus in the developed world comes a parallel illness- the induced stress and anxiety that hundreds of millions are beginning to take on as they begin to take extreme measures gearing up for what seems like an apocalyptic series of events.Yet in the midst of preparation for the worst, we forget about those who may suffer even worse.
As we stockpile toilet paper and come to consensus on the best Netflix binge, we forget that people- right now and all over the world- are suffering, suffocating, and dying from something that is far beyond our control. No, it is not reassuring that there are no confirmed cases in Mali at this point, as there are no other confirmed cases in many other deeply unstable countries including Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Presumably this is in part due to lack of data collection in these vast and resource-drained swathes of land. As we think about the near future for the poorest and least-equipped countries to deal with a pandemic, life could either become abruptly turned on its head, or not.Worst-case scenario- it is difficult to imagine people practicing social distancing here. People live hand to mouth, and there is no way to stay at home and work if you are a tomato seller in a crowded market. Yes, countries all over Africa have put travel bans in place and closed schools along with public gatherings, yet I don’t see how entire markets and street shops can be closed. What is more worrying than the transmission of illness itself is that a number of systems have the potential to break down or even deteriorate entirely. There is not enough infrastructure to avoid power outages, lack of food, or threats to security already, let alone with Coronavirus. Again, worst-case scenario- that forces like European/US troops, the UN’s peacekeeping missions, and national armies will begin to reduce the number of troops they send to highly-infected countries, or stop sending rotations entirely, leaving nations unequipped for civil unrest as terrorist and rebel groups capitalize on governments’ unpreparedness. Best-case scenario- that in light of climate conditions, hopefully the spread of transmission will slow or hinder altogether. We hope that because of the last run with Ebola, that many African countries are well-equipped this time around. African countries have begun to make swift travel bans and have requested that schools, public gatherings, and other events be cancelled in efforts to reduce the spread. I am not sure about herd immunity, realistically speaking, whether it is has proven effective or not. If so, then what better place for herd immunity to happen than in crowded urban areas under the equator.
If you’re stuck inside and feeling bored, understand that this is a place of privilege and you should be wanting to feel bored!! If you are interested in doing something to help someone else in this time of crisis, there is always something to be done- figure out how you could become part of a community to try to help. If you’re an engineer, take a look at github and see what you can churn out (for instance, I believe Mali has about 50 ventilators nationwide so maybe that’s an area to start prototyping). If you’re remotely interested in health or education, register for webinars to seek out and share material on COVID-19. If you have the means to, donate to a cause for those who fall most vulnerable. If you have a friend in the service industry, listen to them and be there as a support system in times of hardship. If you are interested in self growth, work on maintaining a « normal » schedule, check in with family/friends, read a book. If you’re an artist, sketch, paint, sing, or play music for the world to enjoy.For those with any level of anxiety- is important to try to maintain a clear head and also not become overcome with doom. Corona affects all of us, whether we like it or not- whether we are stuck in our room all day filled with boredom/trying to cope with anxiety; whether we work in service industry trying to make ends meet and feeling worried about the future; whether we are a refugee waiting to enter another country with hopes for a better life and now this feeling of being "stuck in between” could never end; whether you are an overburdened, over-stressed health worker facing a reality of limited supplies and limited labor resources; for those contemplating divorce after realizing you can’t self-quarantine with your significant other without feeling completely annoyed and out of love; whether you are in the military and realizing that you may be stuck in your rotation for much longer than you anticipated; whether you are a member of a large bureaucracy trying to come up with protocols or manage enormous systems, which can seem nearly impossible when information and realities change so rapidly; whether you yourself are a victim of the virus or have a family member who is suffering or even died- it is important to remember that through all of this, we will be brought closer together- not physically obviously. What I mean is, we are all facing enormous disruptions in our everyday lives, and any feeling of consistency or normalness has been lifted up from under our feet and lies somewhere ahead of us, yet we have little conception of when we will reach that point. So let’s unite in preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, lifting each other up along the way. Super open to hearing other thoughts!