New Delhi: In a media briefing on August 21, the World Health Organisation (WHO) hoped to eradicate the Novel Coronavirus in less than two years’ time, faster than it took to eliminate the Spanish flu of 1918. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General at the WHO was answering a journalist’s question on the similarities between the 1918 pandemic and the Coronavirus pandemic. Drawing comparison between the two, Dr Tedros asserted that while COVID-19 can spread faster because of the connectedness between people, it can also be tamed with the help of technology and knowledge. Dr Tedros informed that it took two years (February 1918 to April 1920) to get over the 1918 pandemic and said,
Now is more connectedness, the virus has a better chance of spreading; it can move fast because we are more connected but at the same time, we have technology and knowledge to stop it. We have a disadvantage of globalisation, closeness, connectedness but an advantage of technology. So we hope to finish this pandemic in less than two years especially if we can pull our efforts together.
Dr Tedros noted that national unity and global solidarity is the key to fighting the Coronavirus and called for utilising the available tools and said,
(By) utilising the available tools to the maximum and hoping that we can have additional tools like vaccines, I think we can finish it in a shorter time than the 1918 flu.
Elaborating on the other part of the question, how long the 1918 flu lasted, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead COVID-19, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said,
1918 pandemic was a novel strain of influenza and it circulated over a number of years. There were several waves of the pandemic impacting the globe. Once the really intense transmission was over, the virus circulated for decades till another strain replaced it.
Dr Maria noted that the similarities are in the way that both 1918 pandemic and COVID-19 are respiratory pathogens and many interventions that were deployed then are being followed now.
As on August 26, the Coronavirus pandemic has claimed over 8 lakh lives across the world. According to the WHO, Spanish flu was particularly virulent, and killed an estimated 400 lakh worldwide.
Public Health Experts Resonate With WHO’s ‘Optimistic’ Thought
Talking about ending Coronavirus, Dr KK Aggarwal, President CMAAO (Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania) and Medtalks, HCFI (Heart Care Foundation of India) and Past National President IMA (Indian Medical Association), said,
WHO’s comment is fine and medically possible. Ending doesn’t mean there will not be even a single case. Like we are saying that Dharavi has overcome this, means cases are coming in single or double digit. They are controlled. Also, in India, the mortality is controlled when compared to 1918 pandemic that killed around 2 crore Indians.
Talking about the Spanish flu, how it impacted the world, and COVID-19 disease pattern, Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said,
It took three waves for the disease to affect most of the susceptible individuals and then settled down into probably seasonal viral flu. Very often the pandemic virus settles into seasonal virus but coronavirus is not displaying similar wave like pattern. Clearly, when the disease is not under control it jumps straight back up. From that perspective, the classic wave pattern of 1918 was very clear. The second wave was the most impactful in terms of deaths and hospitalisation particularly in the United States.
Dr Giridhara R Babu, Professor and Head, Lifecourse Epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health, PHFI, Bengaluru agreed with Dr Tedros and said that there is a possibility in eliminating COVID-92 within two years but it is a very optimistic expectation and several challenges exist in succeeding in this goal. Elaborating on the challenges, Dr Babu said,
Currently, the challenge is that if we have a vaccine, how will we address the equitable distribution of the vaccine. There is also a huge manpower issue in rolling out either vaccination programmes, or surveillance, or contact tracing. In all urban areas we have the same problem of not being able to find cases on time, not trace the contacts on time, these are all new challenges due to a large population.
Contrary to this, Dr Ravindra M. Mehta is the Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru said that Dr Tedros’ expectations are based on some mathematical model. However, he agreed that the intensity of the virus will definitely come down. He also agreed with Dr Tedros’ remarks on advantages we have in the fight against COVID-19 when compared to Spanish flu and said,
There is a chance of vaccine which we never had during Spanish flu. We have better healthcare infrastructure, studies to understand the spread of the virus, better communication between health bodies and implementation of advisories and strategies. Together these things will help in containing the disease and the cases will come down but masks and social distancing will go on for some time.
Further elaborating on the differences and similarities between the two pandemics, Dr Babu said, that back in 1918 there was a lack of awareness, the dissemination between WHO to government, government to periphery was not channelised, there was a major issue of lack of infrastructure and resources.
Explaining the similarities, Dr Babu said,
The nature of the infection and the virus itself; the way it spreads in groups, in closed spaces, people who don’t wear masks. So, it’s a reflection of the behaviour of the people.
The experts believe that the world is better equipped to fight the Coronavirus pandemic and beat it.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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