LETTER: Spanish flu holds lessons
The experience of SA’s worst pandemic can be used to help combat the coronavirus
Chinese consul-general Lin Jing thinks SA and its health services are ready for the coronavirus (“SA praised for a good strategy to deal with coronavirus threat”, February 26).
The SA national department of health was established in response to the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, which claimed more lives than the Black Death, including 4% of SA’s population.
Medical knowledge has improved dramatically since then, but that experience can still be used to combat the coronavirus when it arrives. It must be taken seriously. In 1918 the “flu” was initially seen as a joke and decision-making suffered as a result.
Quarantine means 40 days. Suspected carriers must be isolated until there is no chance of infection. The passengers on the Jaroslav were isolated for three days. If they had been kept for one more, symptoms would have appeared. Instead, they were on trains taking the virus to Bloemfontein and Kimberley.
Keep the coronavirus out of informal settlements by every means possible. In 1918’s “Black October”, the Docks and Ndabeni settlements suffered particularly badly.
Lack of nursing staff worsened 1918’s death toll. The sick had little help. Infection rates among nursing staff were high. Medical students, GPs and others should be receiving additional training now.
In 1918, Cape Town alone needed six additional hospitals. Sites should already have been identified nationally as well as companies to erect suitable buildings and facilities. The Chinese built a new hospital in 10 days; could SA do the same?
When health minister Zweli Mkhize enters parliament, despite the consul-general’s comments, he could reflect on the horseman outside its front gates. Louis Botha died of the flu, but this dark statue is also symbolic of SA’s worst pandemic to date.
James Cunningham, Camps Bay
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