History shows that epidemics accentuate inequalities

In May 2021, the virologist Angela Rasmussen Held that “if the last 18 months have shown anything, it is that we would do well to remember the lessons of past pandemics when trying to prevent future ones,” which implies coming out of this crisis strengthened.

The testimonies of past epidemics can help us. Although they do not offer definitive answers about what to do, they warn us that rising inequalities are inevitable after a pandemic and, if they are to be avoided, we must act with diligence.

Consider the great plague of London in 1665. When it began to subside, the naval officer Samuel Pepys he pointed that his wealth had more than tripled that year, despite the terrible times that many were living.

Even so, he regretted the expense of leaving London to avoid contagion. Pepys had had to finance his wife and maids ‘lodging at Woolwich and his own and his employees’ at Greenwich. Their experience contrasts with that of Londoners who lost their livelihoods, and the 100.000 who died.

Today we can see how the same social and economic inequalities are accentuated. Amazon executives Jeff Bezos and from Tesla Elon Musk have increased their net worth by billions of dollars during the pandemic, while many of their employees have faced the risks of the coronavirus in the workplace for little pay.

Similarly, during and after the 1918 flu outbreak – in which an estimated one-third of the world’s population was infected and around 50 million people– drug providers they tried to make a profit. In western countries, this was accompanied by shopping, scarred by panic, from quinine and other products to treat and prevent the flu.

Today there is also controversy over how wealthy nations stockpile vaccines and promising potential treatments. Although Covax was created to distribute vaccines fairly, the distribution is still very favorable to rich countries. We are reproducing the mistakes of the past.

Charity also increases

In this type of crisis, along with greed and inequality, there is also the possibility of carrying out acts of charity. On Diary of the year of the plague by Daniel Defoe – a fictional account of the great plague, published many years later, in 1722, and written in the voice of someone who lived through the event – the narrator, HF, he comments:

The misery of the poor I witnessed many times, and sometimes also the charitable help that some pious people gave them on a daily basis, sending them help and supplies of both food and medicine and other help, according to what they needed.

HF notes that private citizens sent funds to the mayor to distribute to those in need, while continuing to distribute “vast sums” directly.

According to true accounts of the 1918 flu pandemic, this crisis also produced many acts of charity. These acts of kindness have also occurred in the current pandemic, with an increase in charitable donations and of the projects to support those in need. Around the world, donations have become more local and expansive, and the mutual help – the practice of helping others in a spirit of solidarity and reciprocity – is increasing.

However, these practices run the risk of disappearing after the current crisis.

After the “Spanish Flu” of 1918, the United States quickly forgot the disease that had killed some 675,000 of his fellow citizens. The period of economic boom known as the roaring 1920s erased memories. There are few traces of that.

Katherine Porter’s short novel of 1939 Pale horse, pale rider is an exception. It describes Miranda’s experience during the 1918 epidemic, when she fell ill and was delirious with the flu, but recovered. However, she discovers that the pale horseman, or death, has taken her love, Private Adam, who probably fell ill from taking care of her. It is a reminder that the trauma of pandemics is deeply personal and should not be forgotten.

Inequalities persist

Now that economies are beginning to recover and growth is expectedWe must remember both the individual suffering and the social upheaval that the pandemic has caused, and use it to make better decisions about how to move forward. History suggests that recent inequalities will reappear unless we make an effort to combat them.

Consider, for example, a type of inequality resulting from pandemics that takes a long time to resolve: that women and children are particularly affected. Defoe’s narrator, HF, considers the fact that poor women had to give birth alone during the plague, without a midwife or neighbors to help them, is one of the most “deplorable cases of all the current calamity.”

HF also states that more women and children died from the plague than the records suggest, because other causes of death were recorded, even if it was plague.

The 1918 flu pandemic also hit those under the age of five and those in their 20s and 40s the hardest, leaving many motherless or orphaned children. In the current pandemic, mothers have had to give birth with much less support than necessary. They have also borne a greater load by having to reconcile work, childcare and homeschooling.

The number of children living in poverty has also increased: it is estimated, for example, that the 14% of British children have faced persistent hunger at some point in the pandemic.

Planning the future

However, observing the testimonies of the past does not mean that we are condemned to reproduce the patterns of inequality. Perhaps they can serve to inspire the opposite. The exit from the crisis may be the moment to consider radical changes in the the state, as the universal basic income and public or heavily subsidized day care centers.

The time has come for policy makers and society to think big and be bold. If we are lucky enough to have a fast and strong economic recovery as after 1918, let us not forget that another catastrophe, be it a pandemic or any other, will once again reveal the weaknesses exposed throughout history.

Perhaps we should not wait for normality to return, but to remember the hope of the first days of the pandemic: that this hope serves to raise a new and better normality.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. You can read it here.

The image with which this article is published comes from WelcomeCollection.org.

Source: ElDiario.es – ElDiario.es by www.eldiario.es.

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