Two news items related to public health appearing in the media some years ago deserve serious attention. The first quoted an international vaccine expert warning that it was only a matter of time before a “deadly flu pandemic” struck and the world was ill-prepared to cope with a major outbreak of the disease. “We are talking about a killer influenza that would kill probably tens of millions of people,” ominously added Mr John Clemens, director of the International Vaccine Institute, “We are not talking about if; we are talking about when.”
The second and earlier item was about AIDS and its devastating impact on health in Africa. The Kenyan lady minister, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2004, was quoted as saying, “the AIDS virus is not a natural phenomenon but is man-made”. She also implied that the spreading of the virus over vast areas of the African continent was a deliberate act (accident/conspiracy?).
The aforementioned items do provide food for thought. For one, they serve to shake one’s confidence in the role of the modern medical research establishment. For another, they add fuel to the already boiling conspiracy theory cauldron regarding the AIDS epidemic. Together, they should be enough to spread panic among the already jittery world community.
History of medical research also tells a different and touching story. The perspicacious reader may be interested in the following item reproduced by the International Herald Tribune from its pages circa June 1899: “The Liverpool School for Tropical Diseases has decided to dispatch to the West Coast of Africa a special expedition for the purpose of investigating the causes of malaria. The expedition will be headed by Major Ross and will start for Sierra-Leone early in August, when the malaria season is at its height and the conditions are most favorable for research. Major Ross hopes to prove his theory that malaria is caused by the bites of a mosquito.”
The reader will undoubtedly have noted the profoundly touching sense of dedication shown by researchers likes Major Ross. Humanity benefited enormously from the hard work of such individuals. Regrettably, today the world has acquired a mercenary hue. In the days gone by, such research was carried out with extremely scarce resources and with what can only be described as a “missionary zeal”. Today it is pelf that rules the roost.
Public memory is woefully short. How many people even recall the time when such ailments as pneumonia were considered incurable and fatal? Yet today hardly anyone gives a second thought to such ailments. Nonetheless, it would be imprudent to forget that it is nature that guides man’s efforts. Cures to all man’s ailments are to be found in nature. They are just waiting to be discovered.
Each succeeding generation is prone to newer and newer ailments, not a few of them man-made. Someday, when research is complete into the origins of some of the new scourges targeting mankind, it might well emerge that they are the direct consequence of man’s ill-advised attempts to tamper with the laws of nature. Let’s face it: nature does not take kindly to such indiscretions.
While on this subject, one can take note of the rather intriguing fact that, despite the giant strides taken in the field of curative medicine, the cure for the common cold is still elusive. It would appear that the common cold is the symbol of nature’s resolve to stay a step ahead of man. This may well be nature’s way of putting humankind in its place. Pam Ayres puts it in very neat fashion and in verse:
It moves in mighty leaps,
It leapt straight past the common cold,
And gave it us for keeps
Harking back to the warnings of the shape of things to come, humankind would be well advised to re-order its priorities in order to cope. Unless this is done betimes, future prospects do not look particularly bright. One would hate to sound alarmist, but forewarned is forearmed.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2019.