Clinton Halladay April 28, 2020
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (SARS-CoV-2[COVID-19]) are number five, six and seven of the seven identified coronaviruses since 1960, that infect people. What makes these three different, perhaps unique, from the other four, is they are zoonotic diseases. In layman terms, these diseases, which normal exist and infect animals, have been successful in breaking the barrier between animals and humans.
So why are we seeing this cross-infection in the three most recent coronaviruses and not in the earlier four instances? Why do they prevail and why are they not eradicated or at least minimized? The three most prominent reasons are: climate change, deforestation, and the lack of a global health care system.
Climate Change: Our planet’s climate is becoming more and more unstable. As temperatures fluctuate and extreme weather conditions increase in frequency and strength, the survivability and transmissibility of viruses and diseases also increases. Tornadoes and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and occurring in locations where they have not been experienced before. Prevailing winds are stronger and more prominent. Such occurrences displace species, such as mosquitos and ticks, which increases the likelihood of animals and humans becoming infected on a wider scale.
Deforestation: In our quest for ever increasing industrialization, urbanization and cheap cultivatable land, we are burning rainforests, clear cutting woodlands, removing fence rows and pushing nature into submission. The consequences of these actions are not only contributing to accelerating climate change, but to exposing us to animals and insects which we have never before encountered. Many of these hosts carry microbes that essentially do not harm them but may, and do, cause harm to humans. As we have no experience with these new pathogens, we initially have no defence or treatment. We need a balance. Making remote areas less remote is not the answer.
Global Health: Since 1960 we have seven coronaviruses, and we will not stop there, there will be more. One means of lessening the severity of outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics is early detection and treatment mobilization. The only means of achieving this is an integrated, well resourced global health care system. When Ebola emerged in 2014 it was quickly identified; however, there were insufficient medical and financial resources or knowledge available to effect early treatment and containment. To put this in context, Sierra Leone in 2015 had 120 doctors for a population of over 7 million. Ontario has some 15,000 General Practitioners plus 15,000 specialists and a population of just over 14 million. See the inequity! The answer is not, as “Dr Trump” has done, to freeze funding for the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). The W.H.O. may not be perfect, but it is trying and is a step in the right direction. We must, however, move beyond the concept of global health and work tirelessly to ensure the practice. We can no longer allow populations, people, in any country on this planet to become disabled or die due to a lack of health care. Surely as human beings, as mankind, we are so much better than that.