Covid-19 Pandemic: Part 1: From Unknown Entity to a Global Threat: Historical Perspective

Published on
Thu Jun 09 2022
Share This Article

(Published in October 2021)

As the title suggests in this paper the discussion is on the arrival of pandemic. We had earlier seen the major epidemics and how the current pandemic differs from it in its nature and magnitude is discussed with the rates of disease at the global, national, and local levels. How we remained in the denial phase till it went to a major killer and started affecting various aspects of our life.

No one had heard of SARS-CoV-2 or Covid 19 Virus Disease name two years back in the world. There is no one who has not heard it or not felt threatened with the name now! Viral Disease, first identified in Wuhan city of China way back in 2019, today China happens to be 109th country with 108 countries having larger number of cases and deaths with USA topping the list. 

Charles Rosenberg an important voice in the history of medicine, observed that “epidemics start at a moment in time, proceed on a stage limited in space and duration, following a plot line of increasing revelatory tension, move to a crisis of individual and collective character, then drift toward closure”

Although it may seem like we are living in unprecedented times, there is in fact a historical context for the COVID-19 pandemic. Smallpox in the seventeenth century, killed 90 percent of the native American population. Polio, in 1952, infected approximately 60,000 children and killed 3000 of them in the US. The 1918 influenza pandemic, killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people globally. HIV/AIDS was first known in 1981. More than 700,000 people with AIDS have died in the US, and nearly 33 million globally. COVID-19 reflects the past in disease and mortality, in deliberations over the social and economic consequences of the virus and public health measures undertaken. The conflicts over commerce, quarantines, and what we now call social distancing; dispute over public health measures’ impact on personal freedom and civil liberties, and struggle to make sense of the disease’s variable impact across populations and regions have been observed with past epidemics too. 

The success or failure of non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) has depended on public compliance, and public compliance—especially long-term public compliance—has depended in large part on timely and effective risk communication. But as historian John Berry explains, the main communication pattern was one of officials avoiding the topic and misleading the public because they either misunderstood the threat or feared political consequences of a quarantine or shutdown. His observation so strongly relates to what we observed in Covid-19 pandemic currently.

While there are similarities with the past epidemics, their threats, their magnitude and mortalities, Covid-19 is distinctly different in many ways. We continued to remain completely unprepared and started with denial mode initially, Covid-19 response for vaccination created a history in the medical world and putting the human life at a priority, deviating from normal guidelines of safety, emergency use for the vaccine was made available in record time globally and we came up with multiple vaccine options in different part of the world. What we missed in effective risk communication uniformly and faced in many political, social and individual hurdles in risk mitigation for universally proven NPI of using masks, social distancing and effective control by our behaviors. 

Current Scenario and Magnitude of the Pandemic

Covid-19 has affected more than over 228 million cases in the world by now with over 4.7 million (about 2% of total cases) deaths as in mid-September 2021 while this write-up goes to press, both cases and deaths continue to occur in large number. So far as US deaths are concerned, deaths are more than 1918 flu making covid 19 epidemic the deadliest of all the epidemic in US until now. With learning about the virus and its virulence on one side and effective treatment on the other, the disease has grown slightly less serious at present but continues to threaten us. As shown in figure 1, USA has been number 1 for total cases and total number of deaths, even though Brazil is Brazil leads the deaths per million population number. 

Concluding Remarks

Major pandemic of covid-19 has seriously affected every aspect of life globally, be it economy, heath, education, sports, entertainment, industry, jobs or any other area. We have made mistakes and we have recovered from our mistakes and fought the pandemic with resilience. There are wide variations geographically based on various inter-related factors.

Coming Up

In the coming months ahead, we will discuss, clinical course, complications and treatment in simple language, social and economic impacts in the societies, various vaccines and their doses and what vaccine is good in what areas, how best to get ourselves protected including vaccinations and lessons learnt for the future one by one. 

We Act Together

Don't wait. Let's act today to protect our families and community from Covid