Student Writing of the Month: Is the World Ready for the Next Pandemic?

January 20, 2018 10:39 pm0 commentsViews: 14
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A worldwide epidemic is more possible than ever as humans travel more…

Over the course of the 20th century, many events transpired that shaped the world: major wars including World War I and World War II took a drastic toll on the world population. But in between those two events came an occurrence which killed more people than World War I —the Spanish Influenza.

Regarded as the “the greatest medical holocaust in history,” the Spanish Influenza had two deadly properties unprecedented for that time: high communicability and high mortality rate. The combination wiped out 50-100 million people. Even though the Spanish Influenza was eventually controlled with quarantining and vaccination, another pandemic or worldwide disease could easily occur despite our advancements in vaccination and quarantining.

Crowd-at-Airport-wAs the recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika have demonstrated, a pandemic is more likely than ever to occur because travel has become more common. A recent study of human dispersal called “Where’s George?” tracked dollar bills and found that “humans disperse according to a power-law distribution over distances of up to hundreds of kilometers and exponentially over even longer distances.” As a result of readily available travel, epidemics within a country can become pandemics in no time. Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and tech genius Bill Gates stated in an interview with Business Insider, “I rate the chance of a nuclear war within my lifetime as being fairly low. I rate the chance of a widespread epidemic, far worse than Ebola, in my lifetime, as well over 50%.”

In the last few years, the small tropical African island of Madagascar has seen an alarming number of cases of bubonic plague. This relic of pathology, once thought to be dead, has rejuvenated; it has claimed the lives of over 200 people, according to a World Health Organization report. In addition, the plague in Madagascar has mutated to a form of pneumonic plague, where coughing can spread the bacteria; its potential to infect is drastically increased as a result of this change.

The recent surge has been linked to poor hygiene as well as a lack of medical infrastructure within Madagascar. While more than 400 cases of the plague are reported in Madagascar each year, “the current outbreak has affected more areas and started earlier than usual,” according to Charlotte Ndiaye of the World Health Organization. Furthermore, the cause of concern for this epidemic seems to be the abnormal nature of the disease as well as the lack of support. The World Health Organization has only been able to provide 5,000 people with treatment compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who need the medication. Without early prevention and treatment, the problems within Madagascar could become the problems of the world.

The problem is only exacerbated by budget cuts to vital organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health. In early 2017, the National Institute of Health lost a fifth of its budget, ultimately leading to the removal of research associations like the National Institute of Health’s Fogarty International Center. Moreover, it took more than eight months of congressional debate to allocate $1.1 billion to fight the already spreading Zika virus throughout the United States, according to an article from Time magazine. Lack of concern for the next pandemic could result in the end of humanity.

While seeming like an event ripped right from the pages of apocalyptic literature, the pandemic that wipes out the human race could be at our doorsteps as vaccines and medications lose their efficacy. Now more than ever, monetary resources, public concern, and medical innovation are essential for the survival of the human race. ■

—Sutirth Mannikeri


Sutirth Mannikeri is a 10th grade student at Pennsbury High School and an editor of its student newspaper, The Pennsbury Voice.


Sutirth-Headshot-w“If there is one common problem shared among teens, it is the lack of sleep. Way too much of my bedtime is spent reading the news and writing. I am a sophomore at Pennsbury High School. I am also a part of our school’s Speech and Debate team, Mathletes team and Marching Band. I have competed in State level Mathcounts and have won quite a few state level essay contests. I am also a proud owner of all the Star Wars movies (even the prequels)…so be prepared for the nerd jokes.”