Spanish Flu and Covid-19: What to Take from the Spanish 1918-1919 Pandemic in Africa

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By Chelsea Chemweno

The Spanish flu happened during colonial times and hit hard the acute of Africa. The resemblance between the coronavirus and Spanish influenza is that both are respiratory infections, which are airborne spread. As if this is not enough, both of them have taken a toll on human lives and a shake in the economy.

The Spanish flu hit hard in 1918 and resulted in 500 million infections while causing about 20-50 million deaths. What is surprising in both pandemic South Africa remains to be the most hit. According to the WHO reports, a rough estimate of about five percent of South Africans who died because of the Spanish flu. East Africa and West Africa were not left behind too. Africa, in general, became much overwhelmed on the side of medical practitioners.

Although reports identify COVID -19 to be of similarity of the Spanish flu, the two, however, have elaborate differences. For the Spanish flu, it has an estimated 1-2 days incubation period, while as for COVID -19; it has a more extended incubation period of about two weeks. However, despite the differences, the lessons learned from Spanish flu can be used to fight the present COVID -19.

Communication is Key

During the Spanish flu of 1918, communication channels had not developed as much as the present day. Since it happened during World War I, communication and coordination became a challenge as the war formed a disruption between the sender and the receiver. In the present coronavirus, the media should play a key role in spreading awareness and advocacy about the pandemic.

One thing to pay much attention to is ensuring extensive and factual information about the virus around the world in different channels and languages.

Behaviour change
“If we continue to behave normally, this disease will treat us abnormally,” signed by Mutahi Kagwe, Minister of Health. During the Spanish Flu, it was seen that individuals were now changing their standard practices of every day and practicing a lot of social distancing.

In 1918, all public gatherings were equally prohibited. This meant that no one no longer went to school, church, mosque, and even no political campaigns. These measures were implemented to prevent an increase in the transmission of the virus.

Assurance of Food Security

Learning from the Spanish flu that hit hard in 1918, it is evident that food is an essential basic need, and it should be taken into critical consideration. The Spanish flu period experienced a food shortage, which then lasted for another two years.

What is to be learned then is that national leaders should protect the farmers and their markets from ensuring the continuous flow of food supply. This is majorly putting incentives of food supply, food production, and food storage. Taking up this measure will go a long way toward preventing individuals from dying from hunger and the virus.

Protecting the Public Health Professionals

This is a fundamental lesson that is to be learned from the Spanish flu of 1918. These individuals are considered as the main actors in times like these. They are the ones who are on the frontline when it comes to fighting these pandemics. In this, therefore, the head of states should consider ensuring their safety by providing the necessary gear that they require with no fail at all. This is to prevent what happened during the Ebola crisis, where an average of eight percent of the health professional perished.

Responding Fast

The earlier, the better kind of thing is needed in managing this type of virus. The Spanish flu occurred mutated in three waves. It all began at the Mediterranean Coastal cities, all the way to East Africa. The sub-Saharan region was the most affected at this time. At its second wave, it then mutated through the seaports up to the West African region. This was the most deadly phase at the time. It then spread continuously and brought about the third wave, which was more devastating.

A lesson learned is that both of them are deadly viruses that might take unexpected turns at any point. It is, therefore, essential to respond fast. National leaders are urged to expect anything band has reasonable strategies on how to handle any challenge that comes in the way.

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