Fighting coronavirus is vital to protect world’s future

Published : Tuesday, 25 February, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Around 2,500 people died worldwide and over 76,000 are infected from the deadly COVID-19, a form of commonly known coronavirus. It has been declared a world health emergency as the medical experts and the scientists are yet to find any viable cure of this dangerous disease. The doctors are depending on treatment of different symptoms of the disease till now but it is inadequate to save the infected certainly. Most importantly, there is no sign of slowing down of the spread of this virus.

Every day we are getting news of new patients infected with coronavirus in new countries. It will become very hard to stop cross-border spread due to several factors. Though the governments of all countries are well concerned to fight the spread, in today’s world, stopping cross-border interaction is unimaginable. COVID-19 is a continuous up-gradation of deadly viruses the world experienced before like; Ebola and SERS. Hence, along with finding cure for this virus, it is necessary to find ways to eliminate this sort of virus spread at the source finding the core reason as that is required to protect the future of the world.

The coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, is baffling experts searching for the source. Since the virus is considered novel, it’s a type of virus that has never been encountered before. Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like shape, and were first identified in the mid-1960s. The virus typically causes respiratory illnesses like the common cold.In the beginning, many of those infected worked or shopped at a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, China, which also sold live and freshly slaughtered animals. This is why experts suspect it crossed to humans from an animal host. According to Chinese state media, researchers at South China Agricultural University have analyzed over 1,000 samples of wild animals to find pangolins, a type of anteater, are the most likely intermediate host of the novel coronavirus.

This isn’t the first time a pathogenic coronavirus has crossed over from an animal host. Ebola and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are recent examples. There are many different theories, but what seems to be a consistent approach in our findings in all of them is that there might have been species jump. There are seven coronaviruses that infect humans, including the new virus. Four of them actually cause common cold and they have been with us for a very long time, maybe a few more will be identified with time, and those are mostly limited to human populations. SARS, and especially MERS, are considered a jump from another species to humans and this new virus is another possible jump.

Although the virus can have severe effects on people now, experts say that this can diminish over time as our immune systems adapt. Efforts to contain the virus aren’t perfect, but they’re the best health officials can implement without infringing excessively on people’s rights. Experts emphasize that it’s too soon to tell what will happen, but governments and healthcare facilities are gearing up to deal with the emergency.

Of course, COVID-19 isn’t Chinese, even if its origin eventually is traced back to a cave in China, nor is the disease that it causes. Epidemics are often societal or political – much like famines, which are usually man-made, even though few famines like droughts occur naturally. As far as the current outbreak goes, two cultural factors help explain how the natural occurrence of a single virus infecting a single mammal could have cascaded into a global health crisis. Both of those factors are quintessentially, though not uniquely, Chinese.

The first is China’s long, long history of punishing the messenger. A doctor who had flagged on social media the risk of a possible viral outbreak was among several people summoned by the police in Wuhan in early January and warned not to spread rumors. He died recently after being infected with COVID-19. Similarly, the epidemic of SARS – which is caused by another coronavirus – that broke out in southern China in late 2002 was covered up by local authorities for more than a month, and the surgeon who first sounded the alarm was held in military detention for 45 days.

In 2008, a scandal erupted over tainted baby formula, after major Chinese producers were found to have added melamine to milk powder, causing death of six infants and hospitalization of 54,000. Four years later the whistle-blower credited with first exposing the problem was stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances.

These are recent examples, but that doesn’t mean they should be pinned solely on the Chinese Communist Party. The practice of punishing whoever brings embarrassing truths has been the order of the day since at least the time of Confucius, in the sixth century B.C. Punishing people who speak the truth has been a standard practice of China’s ruling elite for more than two millenniums and is an established means of coercing stability. It is not an invention of modern China under the Communists – although the party, true to form, has perfected the practice. And now, muzzling the messenger has helped spread the deadly COVID-19, which has infected some 76,000 people.

A second cultural factor behind the epidemic is traditional Chinese beliefs about the powers of certain foods, which have encouraged some hazardous habits. There is, in particular, the aspect of Chinese eating culture known as ‘jinbu’, meaning to fill the void. Some of its practices are mysterious, but even among Chinese people who don’t follow them, the concept is pervasive.

It is better to cure a disease with food than medicine, so starts the holistic theory. Illnesses result when the body is depleted of blood and energy – though not the kind of blood and energy studied in biology and physics, but a mystic version. For men, it is most important to fill the energy void, which is related to virility and sexual prowess and for women, the stress is on replacing blood, which improves beauty and fertility.

Rare plants and animals from the wild are thought to bring the best replenishment, especially when eaten fresh or raw. Winter is said to be the season when the body needs more ‘jinbu’ foods and it can be related to the breakout of both SARS and COVID-19 during the winter.

Bats, which are thought to be the original source of both the current coronavirus and the SARS virus, are said to be good for restoring eyesight. Gallbladders and bile harvested from live bears are good for treating jaundice and tiger bone is for erections.

More mundane yet no less popular is the palm civet, a small, wild quadruped suspected of having passed on the SARS virus to humans. When stewed with snake meat, it is said to cure insomnia. Less wealthy people might turn to dog meat – preferably a dog that has been chased around before being slaughtered, because some people believe that more ‘jinbu’ benefits are reaped from eating an animal whose blood and energy ran high. Similarly, it is thought that animals killed just before serving are more ‘jinbu’ potent, which is one reason the more exotic offerings in wet markets tend to be sold alive – also making them more potent vectors for any virus they might carry.

Eating exotic wildlife has long been endorsed by scholars and elevated to mystical heights, including in the medical treatise, written some 2,000 years ago and still revered by many health-conscious Chinese today. Beliefs surrounding the health benefits of certain wildlife foods flood the culture. These practices are not legion across China and not uniquely Chinese. Many people in many other countries eat exotic foods too. But what is notable about China is that these beliefs about the special powers of some foods have been accepted, are now a given, even among people who do not put them into practice. They have become firmly embedded in the Chinese collective consciousness.

And so there are strong reasons to say that the current outbreak of COVID-19 has been aided by two fundamentally Chinese cultural practices. This may be discomfiting to hear; the notion might even strike some people as offensive. But it is necessary to investigate all the causes behind this deadly epidemic, whatever their nature because if we don’t, we will only be inviting the next one.

It is notable that none of the deadly viruses as long as we can remember were originated in any Islamic country. The Muslim countries maintain certain food hygiene. They usually eat properly cooked food and do not consume any carnivores. Moreover, the way of slaughtering animals in the Muslim culture lets the blood of any slaughtered animal to drain out. Many diseases can spread from the infected blood of the animals. Considering the continuous spread of different animal-borne virus which turned into epidemics, the world community should learn from the Islamic culture to maintain food hygiene. Even the experts are now suggesting eating meat well cooked. If they do, definitely the threats of spread of virus like COVID-19 or SERS can be notably reduced in the future.

COVID-19 has been found in over 22 countries till now. It has not reached Bangladesh till now but the neighbouring countries like India found infected patients. Hence, it is very important to remain alert. But as we mentioned earlier, containing cross-border interaction is very hard in today’s world of free economy and open market. No country is actually doing business only inside the border today. Development of technology, especially information technology has also contributed in removing the physical impacts of borders. Hence, we can never remain completely safe from a threat of an event at even a distant part of the world.

To protect the future of this world, the global policymakers should come out mystic and culturally embedded practices. We must suggest the global community to open their eyes to adopt few practices regarding food hygiene which are supported by science as well as different religions to avoid unfortunate origination of deadly viruses. It is important to eat safe as unhygienic practice do not risk a single life rather that of millions. We hope the world will focus on fighting the cause or source to ensure a world free of threats like this COVID-19.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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