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  • Writer's pictureDr Aimable UWIZEYE

This is not a time for fear and panic!

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

Around 60 days after we celebrated the new year 2020, the world is already plunged into a climate of uncertainty, panic and fear because of the new pneumonia of Wuhan.

The spreading of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, China in December 2019 has created a global health emergency to identify the cause of the disease as well as its potential source. The disease was later identified as caused by a novel coronavirus, named later COVID-19. Since the first case, the disease has spread in 54 countries with around 85,641 cases and 2933 deaths reported. The new virus belongs to the coronavirus family, which includes viruses that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). MERS occurred in Jordan and Saudi Arabia in 2012, it was generally localised and all cases were directly linked through travel to infected countries, except the large outbreak of MERS reported in South Korea. SARS is older, it was first reported in 2003 in China, and was thought to originate from animals such as bats or civet cats. SARS resulted in 8,000 cases and affected only 26 countries.

Contrary to both diseases, the COVID-19 is more virulent and has a rapid transmission from person-to-person. While the patient zero is suspected to have been contaminated from animals, all other cases are mainly due to community transmission. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, scientists have been speeding to identify the origin of the novel coronavirus. The identification of the virus is crucial to the development of the cure, vaccines as well as prevent a future outbreak. Most suspected animals are pangolin or bats. Pangolins are trafficked globally because of the high demand for Chinese traditional medicine and their meat is considered a delicacy. China is not the only country to consume this bushmeat. It is also consumed in Vietnam, Ghana, and Nigeria.

The identification of the origin of the virus is still a puzzle for several scientists. For instance, SARS-CoV has been found to have transited through pangolin before it infected humans. For COVID-19, however, pangolins are the main suspect. If pangolins are the main sources, why COVID-19 has not occurred in countries like Ghana or Nigeria where pangolin meat is much appreciated by the wealthy? What are the environmental and social conditions that facilitate the mutation of this deadly virus so that it can be transmitted from person-to-person?

Seeing the fear and panic propagating around the world, from travel bans, stock markets crash, fights over food in Italian supermarket or racist attacks on Asians in different countries, the world should take this opportunity and join forces to fight and prevent the spread of this disease. Policymakers should commit more funding to research, medical education and construction of hospitals in rural areas, particularly in low and middle-income countries to make sure that the vulnerable communities are also prepared for this outbreak.

The efforts and actions of public authorities to control this COVID-19 are remarkable from China to Italy, but the number of infected people will likely increase in the coming days. We must be prepared to face this challenge. Simple actions can help to reduce the likelihood of the transmission, such as cleaning hand regular or avoiding touching eyes, mouth and nose. I hope that researchers are working day and night will find vaccines. The vaccine would not be ready before the end of 2020. Kudos to all health workers working days and nights to help the sick people, test thousands of samples and support people in quarantined areas.

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