Nipah: Yet another virus
The surge in emerging infectious diseases is alarming but global resource allocation, including in India, remains patchy
I spent the last couple of weeks recovering from a nasty stomach bug. Giving in to the temptation of late-night street food cost me dearly. Two weeks of intestinal infection, a liquid diet, and copious rounds of pill-popping later, I am inching back to my normal intake of food. While I was nursing my wary tummy, the rotten meat scam was raging on in full pelt. Often, my mind weakened by my ill body, questioned if the bug wasn't from my favourite meat. Considering the substandard quality of produce used by most restaurants, it is easy to pick up a bug. Soon, my mind wandered further to more serious health scares. In today's world of sickness, illness, and new kinds of diseases, how safe and healthy do any of us feel anymore?
Just as we were getting our heads around Zika, MERS, Hendra, and Ebola, there is a new virus in the mix – Nipah. The evolution of these diseases, most remain fatal and untreatable, is one of the biggest threats that human beings face. Every year, there is a new disease pushing to become an epidemic. Bird Flu, Swine Flu, and SARS seem harmless compared to the newer dangers. Should we avoid chicken or pork or both? Should we turn vegetarian? Should we stop travelling out of the country for the fear of picking up a deadly virus?
These are the morbid realities that we face. A world that is not only unsafe for children due to threats of war and terrorism, we have ensured through our ill-thought actions that the next generation fights for clean water and air. In the near future, disease too will once again be the biggest enemy of mankind. Lethal viruses could wipe out hundreds in its heartless march across nations; their spread has already started. According to a study titled, 'Ecological origins of novel human pathogens', there are 1399 species of human pathogens (bacteria that can cause disease). The first 87 were reported in 1980 and in every successive year, three new pathogens have emerged. The surge in emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) has been aided by population explosion, globalisation and increased travel, and most importantly, Climate Change and deforestation. Another report titled, 'Global trends in emerging infectious diseases', states that not only are global resources to tackle new EIDs poorly assigned, the research and surveillance of diseases is happening in geographies where they are least likely to originate, namely the developed nations.
So, how do we tackle this potential threat? Countries, including India, need to devote more funds and resources to track and treat emerging infectious diseases. 11 deaths related to Nipah have already been confirmed in India. With a dense population like ours where education, awareness, and public health engineering pose a daily challenge, the spread of serious viruses can be immediately fatal. It is time for the Indian government to increase budgetary allocation on health spends and not cut monies.
And, how does the common man arm himself? By being more aware and asking more questions. Be mindful of where you buy your things – raw ingredients, cosmetics, clothes, etc. Find out which farm supplies the chicken that your family eats twice a week. Are they following correct safety standards? Are your clothes being produced at South East Asian sweatshops? Are your cosmetics free of animal cruelty? It is only by demanding answers and full disclosure that we can even hope to control what comes into our homes, lives, and ultimately, into our bodies. Most importantly, hold your governments (local, regional, and national) responsible for the rampant cutting of trees, filling of wetlands, rising pollution, and effluent-frothing lakes. Our most basic right as an Indian and a human being is not swanky glass-door offices and fast sports cars. Our most basic right is the right to life, liberty, and security. No amount of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or a vibrant GDP can mean anything if citizens cannot be assured healthy, meaningful lives.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)