From the Spanish Flu to COVID-19: Sad We Never Learned
By Nana Ama Addo
As countries around the world fight to stay alive, it may be helpful to consider the climate of the current pandemic within a historical context. Certainly, this is not the first pandemic the globe has experienced, and as pessimistic as it may seem, it probably will not be the last. In examining a past pandemic, the world has faced and how it responded, we learn meaningful lessons that we can apply to COVID-19.
From the fall of 1918 to 1920, a viral infection known as the Spanish flu emerged, and became a pandemic that struck in three waves of outbreaks. This influenza’s location and condition of origin is unknown to this day. Its impact was immense; it claimed the lives of about 50 million people and affected 40% of the population, racking up a greater mortality rate than World War I.
In Philadelphia, as the first wave of the Spanish flu began to take effect and WWI raged overseas, the loss of financial gain seemed a bigger threat to society than mass infection and death. City officials refused to close businesses, and on September 28th, 1918, 20,000 people gathered in the streets of the City of Brotherly Love to exercise patriotism and source funds for the war. Liberty Loans, a business selling bonds issued by the government, sponsored this grand event. Ten days after the parade, 20,000 Philadelphians were infected and 1,000 of them died. After this mass infection, the city finally closed theatres and saloons.
By March 1919, more than 15,000 Philadelphians perished due to the Spanish flu. Other states like Missouri, which proactively closed shops, at their peak of infection, reached the equivalent just an eighth of Philadelphia’s recorded deaths. Globally, because of the war, many countries refused to quarantine.
The enormity of the Spanish flu left a lasting imprint on world leaders. Well, some of them. In 2014, President Barack Obama expressed his concern that the United States was not adequately prepared for an incoming pandemic. In a speech he said:
“There may and likely will come a time in which we have an airborne disease which is deadly. In order for us to deal with that effectively, we have to put in place an infrastructure that allows us to see it quickly, isolate it quickly, respond to it quickly… So, if and when a new strand of flu like the Spanish flu crops up five years from now or a decade from now, we’ve made the investment… We need to protect the American people, and we need to show the world how America leads.”
The Global Health Security and Biodefense Unit was established in 2015 by Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor to President Obama, under the National Security Council (NSC), a national security and foreign policy advisory team for the White House.
Rear Adm. Timothy Zeimer, an official of the NSC and leader of the unit, left the Trump administration in May 2018, as reported by the Washington Post. The global health security team he supervised was also demobilized, as the current national security advisor, John Bolt, reorganized the department.
After the first case of the novel coronavirus was discovered in the US at the end of January, it took Donald Trump six weeks to take serious preventive measures. Now, with over 1.01 million cases and 56,752 deaths in the United States, the future is uncertain, but there are measures we as a people can take to protect ourselves in the meantime.
Dr. Hezekia Adesanya
Dr. Hezekia Adesanya is a physician and Independent Medical Expert/Advisor in the greater Philadelphia area. He suggests communities maintain social distance, ‘mask’ up and endure until the vaccine becomes available. To better protect oneself during this pandemic, Dr. Adesanya advises families to farm or garden for essential vegetables, eat healthy, cut excess fatty foods out of one’s diet, exercise and hydrate with water.
As humans, it is natural to crave social interaction, as we are ‘herd animals’, Doctor Carol Penn from MindBodyMedicine describes. However, if we have evolved intellectually, it is imperative that the general public gravely ponders the long-term goal of containing the virus and the sacrifices the short-term goals for the safety of the masses. Otherwise, it will be an unfortunate fight for survival on the cellular level.
Corporations and institutions whose heartless business strategies rake human ethics over the coal fire, have once again shown us that the value of money overrides the value of a human life. It’s ludicrous that fast food joints like McDonalds and Honeygrow are categorized as essential businesses. Pandemics have proven to us that America is more of a business and less of a country.