Prevention costs far less than cure

Epidemics such as the Biblical plagues, Black Death, cholera, smallpox, syphilis, influenza, louse-borne typhus, HIV, SARS, and now COVID-19 are not inevitable. Epidemics require (1) a virulent pathogen, (2) a susceptible host, and (3) environmental conditions suited to the spread of disease. Without any one of these three ingredients, epidemics fizzle.

There is little we can do to prevent the evolution of virulent pathogens. Relatively harmless pathogens limited to single hosts regularly, but unpredictably mutate into aggressive strains able to spread and sicken less resistant hosts.

There is more we can do to protect susceptible hosts and much more we can do to limit environmental conditions that favour disease transmission. As COVID-19 winds down, it would be wise to plan how to reduce the risk of future epidemics because, as we are being reminded, prevention costs far less than cure.

Our understanding of epidemics is vastly improved. Today, few believe epidemics to be the punishment of angry deities or the product of vengeful sorcery. Our understanding of microbiology, epidemiology, and immunology is better than even during the 2003 SARS epidemic when precious time was lost identifying the causal agent and its genetic sequence. During the SARS epidemic, there was only one person testing samples in the entire province of Ontario using a clunkier, costlier procedure unable to process nearly the volume of tests run daily across Canada for COVID-19.

Past epidemics occurred when large numbers of impoverished people lived in crowded, unsanitary conditions where basic services such as clean water and sewage were scarce to non-existent. For example, London during the Industrial Revolution, when exhausted, under-paid, over-worked labourers were packed into filthy tenements with cellars overflowing with sewage that saturated the ground, poisoned the water, fouled the air, and precipitated London’s Great Stink and tens of thousands of avoidable deaths.

Lesson one is eliminate poverty.

If this sounds ridiculously idealistic, dream bigger. Eliminating poverty is neither impossible nor impractical and a far better investment than assault rifles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, stealth fighter jets, nuclear aircraft carriers, or Star Wars defence systems. Eliminating poverty requires a fraction of what we spend on the military and returns an infinitely preferable outcome.

Ontario, during the Kathleen Wynne era, experimented with guaranteed basic incomes. She proved they were cost-effective compared with the patchwork of existing social services programs and they enabled recipients to escape the poverty cycle.

In addition to poverty, war nurtures perfect conditions for epidemics. There were many more deaths caused by louse-borne typhus, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery than by combat during the Crimean, American Civil, Boer, and Great Wars.

Lesson two is eliminate war.

Lesson three is eliminate environmental conditions suited to the spread of disease. This topic embraces more than I can discuss in this article, but here’s a preview.

In his recent book, LIU professor Bill Schutt discusses desertification in Texas and California where researchers gauged soil moisture to assess drought. They determined 2012-2014 to be the most arid period in the past 1,200 years.

Schutt reports, “Across China, Syria, and central Africa, regions that only recently experienced dry seasons are becoming deserts. People in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, three of the poorest countries in the world, are suffering through the worst drought in 60 years. In parts of Sudan rainfall has fallen by 30 percent over the past 40 years. The Sahara is encroaching into farmland at one mile per year. Famine and diminishing access to fresh water are now daily realities for more than 12 million Africans. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, many conflicts in Africa are driven by climate change and environmental degradation.”

In concluding this article, there is a relationship between poverty, war, environmental degradation, especially climate change, and epidemics. In our plans to reduce the risk of future epidemics, it would be ridiculously unwise to ignore this relationship.

Robert M. Macrae, Environmental Technology Instructor, Castlegar, B.C.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Upper Clearwater naturalist helps name national lichen

The votes are in for Canada’s proposed national lichen and the Star-tipped… Continue reading

Celebrations continue for Tsilhqot’in Nation after court victory against Taskeo Mines Ltd.

Supreme Court of Canada upholds 2014 decision rejecting New Prosperity mine on May 14, 2020

38 ladies had plenty of room to social distance

A couple of years ago hubby and I purchased 600 (yes, 600)… Continue reading

B.C. records no new COVID-19 deaths for the first time in weeks

Good news comes despite 11 new test-positive cases in B.C. in the past 24 hours

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

B.C. visitor centres get help with COVID-19 prevention measures

Destination B.C. gearing up for local, in-province tourism

36 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario, Quebec care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in long-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

B.C. poison control sees spike in adults, children accidentally ingesting hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer sales and usage have gone up sharply amid COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

Most Read