Fighting Epidemics

  • IASbaba
  • January 5, 2022
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(Sansad TV: Perspective)

Dec 27: Fighting Epidemics – https://youtu.be/eEcH4yNdVL0 


  • GS-2- Health
  • GS 3 – Economy; Disaster Management

Fighting Epidemics

Context: 27th December marked the second International Day of Epidemic Preparedness – aims to promote international awareness and action on the prevention of, preparedness for and partnership against epidemics. 

  • This year would mark the second year that this day is observed, after the first International Day of Epidemic Preparedness was marked in 2020 based on a call for it made by the United Nations General Assembly. 
  • It is important for us to stay aware of the fact how infectious diseases can sweep across the world, push health systems to the brink and devastate lives and families. 
  • The havoc caused by Covid-19 reflects that the world learnt no lessons from outbreaks like Ebola, Zika, SARS and others. 

Major Epidemics  

A glimpse through major pandemics of the world which caused huge loss to life:

The Plague of Justinian
    • It killed between 30 million and 50 million people.
  • The cause of the Plague of Justinian was infectious fever caused by Yersinia pestis.
Black death
  • Between 1347 and 1351, it spread throughout Europe, killing approximately 25 million people
  • It is believed to have been the result of plague – an infectious fever caused by bacterium Yersinia pestis
  • It was likely transmitted from rodents to humans by the bite of infected fleas.
Smallpox (15th – 17th centuries)
  • Smallpox claimed the lives of approximately 20 million people, close to 90% of the population, in the Americas. 
  • The pandemic helped Europeans colonize and develop the newly vacated areas.
  • Smallpox is caused by infection with the variola virus transmitted through various ways.
Cholera (1817 – 1823)
  • The first cholera pandemic began in Jessore, India.
  • It was the first of 7 major cholera pandemics that have killed millions of people. 
  • The World Health Organization has called cholera “the forgotten pandemic”.
  • Its seventh outbreak, which began in 1961, continues to this day.
  • It is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholera.
Spanish Flu or H1N1 (1918 – 1919)
  • It is caused due to H1N1 virus.
  • It infected around 500 million people, or a third of the world’s population, of that time. 
  • The pandemic was responsible for killing over 50 million people globally.
Hong Kong Flu or H3N2 (1968 – 1970)
  • Global fatalities were around one million.
  • It was caused by an H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus.
  • It is believed that the virus responsible for the Asian flu evolved and re-emerged 10 years later into this so-called “Hong Kong flu”.
  • H3N2 was exceptionally contagious.
HIV/AIDS (1981 – present)
  • Since 1981, 75 million people have had the HIV virus and approximately 32 million have died as a result.
  • HIV/AIDS is a persistent epidemic that continues to impact millions of people every year. 
  • The HIV infection is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids.
SARS (2002 – 2003)
  • SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is an illness caused by one of the 7 coronaviruses that can infect humans. 
  • In 2003, an outbreak that originated in the Guangdong province of China became a global pandemic.
  • It infected around 8,000 people and killing 774 of them.
  • The consequences of the 2003 SARS pandemic were largely limited due to an intense public health response by global authorities.
Swine Flu or H1N1 (2009 – 2010)
  • It was a new form of the influenza virus which emerged in 2009.
  • It infected approximately millions of people with global deaths in the range of 151,700 to 575,400
  • It is called the “swine flu” because it appeared to cross over from pigs to humans in transmission.
  • 80% of the virus-related deaths occured in people younger than 65.
Ebola (2014 – 2016)
  • It began in a small village in Guinea in 2014 and spread to a handful of neighbouring countries in West Africa.
  • It is caused by infection with a virus of the Filoviridae family, genus Ebolavirus.
  • The virus killed 11,325 of the 28,600 infected people, with most cases occurring in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19 (2019 – present)
  • Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
  • Worldwide cases have surpassed 500,000 with more than 24,000 deaths globally. 
  • It is believed to be transmitted from animals to humans.
  • The vast majority of cases are reported from USA now. 
  • On March 11, the WHO characterized the outbreak as a pandemic.
  • Estimates indicate that Coronavirus could eventually infect 40% to 70% of the global population.
  • Practicing social distancing is recommended.
  • The damage to the world economy threaten the worst recession since the Great Depression or the “panics” of the 1800s, depending on the scale of government responses.


Prevention of, preparedness for and partnership against epidemics

A lack of international attention on this need would result in future pandemics surpassing previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity. Preparedness for epidemics is important to prevent the healthcare structures across the world from collapsing under the increased burden that usually accompanies epidemics.

  • Conduct surveillance at points of entry into the country, like border crossings, ports and airports to identify people coming from affected countries and suffering from fever or any other symptom of the disease in question. Such people should be then sent to the nearest health unit.
  • The health authorities to prepare personnel and Rapid Response teams to undertake surveillance within the community and investigate any outbreak
  • ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and its designated labs to test predetermined clinical samples of fever cases to be tested for COVID. 
  • Strengthen the infrastructure needed to develop vaccines via academia-industry interface, while also supporting skill development as well as capacity building.
  • Strengthening internal inter-ministerial co-ordination for rapid vaccine development and testing to address known and unknown infectious disease threats
  • Strengthening of development frameworks, surveillance and logistics for use of new vaccines, where appropriate.

India has been able to delay, if not entirely defy, a third wave of the pandemic with the help of a strong vaccination drive across the country, and is hoping to ensure that such quick vaccine development can be undertaken for any potential epidemic at a later stage as well, which can be a strong point in India’s epidemic preparedness.

On the other hand, the second wave of coronavirus exposed several shortcomings of the healthcare sector in the country, with beds, medicines as well as oxygen falling short of the demand. Though it is true that the magnitude of the second wave was unprecedentedly high, it is also true that healthcare systems across the country fell short by a wide margin.

As we respond to this health crisis, we need to prepare for the next one.

  • Scaling-up investments in better monitoring, early detection and rapid response plans in every country — especially the most vulnerable
  • Strengthening primary health care at the local level to prevent collapse
  • Ensuring equitable access to lifesaving interventions like vaccines for all people
  • Achieving Universal Health Coverage
  • Building global solidarity to give every country a fighting chance to stop infectious diseases in their tracks.


The coronavirus pandemic will not be the last one that humanity will face; therefore there is a need for immediate, coordinated action by the world to prepare for future health emergencies. 

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Is the learning curve for India over? Is India prepared to handle the third wave? 
  2. Discuss the shortcomings that India experienced while dealing with the second wave of Covid-19.

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