Presently, trying to eradicate Sars-Cov-2 and the illness it causes, Covid-19, looks unthinkable. Mankind has only “abolished” one virus, smallpox. The human viral reservoir for Covid-19 now numbers millions. Second waves of the virus are launching globally, while in much of the U.S., standard techniques at control are not applied or are actively blocked (
Yet this virus will bedevil us indefinitely until we make the attempt to completely knock it out. Some reasons to do so include:
A. It’s global. Over two hundred countries and other political entities like Hong Kong report active cases.
B. People move. They travel. They dine. They have sex. You require a global approach to stop the virus.
C. At present, there are 781 known coronaviruses in bats. SARS, MERS, and Sars-Cov-2 have lethally jumped from bats to humans. According to the Economist, about 50 viruses similar to those three now live in bats.
That means 50 potential pandemics transitioning to humans from a single viral group in one species. There are hundreds of thousands more viruses in other species that can move from other species to humans, as AIDS did from apes to man.
D. The World economy has gone into a depression due to one virus. Do you want to live through more pandemics? How many?
D. Setting up programs may stop future pandemics and provide the means that might halt bioterrorism and provide the data necessary to prevent other infectious and environmentally induced illnesses.
What to Do
1. First, you start with international infection surveillance.
It’s been done before. These viral programs looked at emerging pathogens in past hot spots – China, Southeast Asia, Africa- that have experienced cross species spread. The programs were shut down though costs – in the tens of millions – were relatively small. Who needed to prevent a “far off future threat?”
That future is now our past and frightening present.
Who can run international surveillance? The WHO, if the U.S. is still in it; the Gates Foundation; many others. If it works for emerging viruses it can be set to test for other infectious agents including possible bioweapons, plus known and novel environmental pathogens. As pathogens can spread quickly from any human population to any other, every person on the planet has a dog in the fight.
2. Set up public health infrastructure to trace and track. Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Kerala, Vietnam have done this well. Every society is culturally different, but effective techniques can be adapted elsewhere. In the U.S., former CDC director Tom Frieden has proposed a national corps of perhaps 250,000 tracers and trackers.
Most should be placed with local health departments, using uniform reporting that can be coordinated nationally and internationally. We know how to do this job. We just don’t – yet.
3. Create global funding for new antiviral and antibacterial platforms. Humans are resourceful. After effective vaccines are found for Covid-19, new platforms, like mRNA and DNA vaccines, can be assessed for future relevance. Then we can take care of enough elephant in the room, antibiotic resistance, which could kill many millions in the future.
Big Pharma has done a notably poor job in creating new vaccines and antibiotics, not seeing enough money in it. Hopefully they have recognized governments will be less interested in paying a million dollars for one chemotherapy treatment when there’s no vaccine for Covid-19.
One of the great opportunities presented by this hideous illness is to develop new platforms for drugs and vaccines that can rapidly reconfigure or new pathogens. I was among many other physicians who sadly laughed at the movie “Contagion,” where Gwyneth Paltrow’s infidelity sparks a murderous global pandemic stopped in short weeks by miracle-working virologists and vaccine makers.
That science fiction stuff could now turn mainstream.
3. Get rid of Wet Markets. Do pangolins, eagles, and bats need be sold in public markets? No.
Yet people need to eat, and some culinary habits may be as old as humanity. Chimpanzees may be close cousins to humans, but they are a delicacy in some regions. Closing wet markets and changing cultures will be expensive, but rich countries should pay the price. It will prove a cheap way to prevent future pandemics.
4. Increase the size and provide long term support to wildlife refuges globally. Our new species crossing diseases happen more easily as we take over almost every inch of Earth.
The Anthropocene – our human epoch – aids the extinction of thousands of species. Many of them, like honeybees, are required for our survival. Already crop yields are decreased through the loss of bee populations. There are also the thousands of interspecies connections needed for our survival that we don’t yet know about.
Preserving the planet may not just be good for business. It may prove necessary to preserving any business.
Eradicating Covid-19 now looks a pipedream. It isn’t (https://regenerationhealthnews.com/sleep/interview-with-the-virus/). The tools already exist to let us come close, which may be good enough. Developing new anti-infective tools and procedures may also keep many millions alive far longer, and prevent indescribable suffering. What you prevent you don’t have to treat.
But that takes leadership. Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Consider that this November, if not most days.