Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Armies and Epidemics: The Military Role in the Epidemic

All epidemiologists will agree on one major truth that epidemics come in cycles. The world is currently battling with the Coronavirus epidemic which is spreading like wildfire. The current Covid 19 virus may not be as deadly as the Spanish Flu of 1920 but the main problem is the speed at which it is spreading.

In between the two major epidemics, there has been other more deadlier occurrences of viruses that have proven to be more difficult than Covid 19. For instance, the SARS and the MERS viruses had a slower rate of transmission and yet the ratio of death was higher. 

Like I said at the beginning, it is the rate of spread that is terrifying in this new event of Covid 19. It is estimated that since the onset of winter in the United States of America, around 30 000 people have been killed by different subtypes of flu. It is common during the winter season anywhere in the world.

But here is one thing that is giving epidemiologists and the medical fraternity sleepless nights. The spread of the new virus in the block is much faster and that makes it very difficult to control. Corona virus was first detected or I should rather say reported in December 2019. So far it has infected around 100 000 people globally albeit with a lower rate of death. Out of the total infected, only 3 000 have died from the disease. 

It is important to make comparisons of the two epidemics that have occurred exactly one hundred years apart. By the way, there has been a trend over the last four hundred years of the occurrence of epidemic on each one of the twentieth year of every century. So we must have prepared ourselves better before the alarm was raised.

First it was the Bubonic Plague of 1720 that decimated millions of people. It was followed by the Cholera Epidemic of 1820 followed by the Spanish Flu of 1920. We should not make this look somewhat cosmetic and ignore other epidemics that occur in between. But the fact of the matter is; the ones that happen on the twentieth year of every century have far reaching consequences to the world population.

Take for instance in between the Spanish flu of 1920 and the Corona virus of 2020, there has been several epidemics of note that happened. There has been the syphilis epidemic, the AIDS epidemic, SARS, MERS and Ebola just to mention a few. All these were contained because of their transmit ability from one individual to another.

Covid 19 is usually spread by people without any noticeable symptoms while all these other past epidemics were easy to identify at incubation period. The slower rate of spread helped in the containment of the disease. The slow pace also became helpful in allowing the development of vaccines.

There are common pointers of the previous epidemic and the current one. The Spanish flu was largely aided by the military in its worldwide spread. The Spanish flu had its epicentre in Europe which was the main theatre of the First World War. Apparently the outbreak was known much earlier than 1920 but the powers that be decided to remain silent about it.

Actually it was first discovered in 1918 as a disease common among military personnel. This information was escalated to the political leadership who then ignored the warning details about how fast and far this could reach. The politicians who usually have the final say had issues with the containment of troops just at the end of a major war.

As it was not politically right to quarantine such large numbers of troops most of whom had not seen their families in about the entire time of the campaign, the quickest and easiest decision was to let them go home. 

They all left in all directions to the different parts of the world and they spread the disease wherever they laid their feet. Soldiers are presumably heathy able bodied men. This means they are usually at the peak of their sexuality. Remember that they had been confined during the war and could not express themselves in any affectionate manner.

Their release provided a great opportunity for them to associate with the opposite sex. That intimate contact was all that was needed to pass on the virus. Scientists at the time struggled with the fact that most victims were young people in their prime. The answer lies in the fact that soldiers came back to interact sexually with the younger female population and this had devastating results.

Equally so, the military still offers that unwanted opportunity in the spread of Covid 19. The masks and the gloves needed to prevent the spread of the virus will not work in intimate contacts. So the military must be targeted on matters of public education in order to save the world.

South Korea has initiated good strategies of using the military for the combat of the spread of this virus. They are used in enforcing quarantine measures in the country and are also providing critical manpower to the health fraternity.

In the case of Botswana, our military should stop all personnel movement. That will mean suspending the usual three month cycle of changing post at operational areas. This may sound unfair to those who have done their time in the borders and are looking forward to coming home. This action will actual help them because they will be kept out of harm’s way.

The first thing that a soldier looks forward to after a lengthy stay on duty is to find solace on the bosom of the tribe of Eve. If they are released, that will become a serious security breach in this country.

For the remaining lot who are currently in the different camps, they should be positively engaged in the fight against the epidemic. They must provide manpower to the medical professionals that are already limping. This is the time for them to show what it takes to protect their country against a foreign enemy.

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