As the cases with Coronavirus rapidly increase, Netflix happened to air a new documentary series “the pandemic: how to prevent an outbreak”. How timely!
The series has six episodes, each with several chapters. It is not focused on the scientific aspects of the diseases, but more on the human stories, which to me, oddly, is more powerful.
The 1918 Spanish flu killed 50-100 million people, more than the WWI and WWII combined; more recent memories include SARS, MERS, Ebola, the death rate ranges from 10% to up to 90%. According to CDC, this year's flu season has led to at least 5.9 million medical visits and 120,000 hospitalizations. The data also shows that between 6,600 and 17,000 flu-related deaths occurred from Oct. 1, 2019, to Jan. 11, 2020. The viruses are extremely smart, with high mutability and potential to transmit and kill in large populations. It is an impending threat. For the next pandemic, the consensus at the moment seems to be, not the question of if, but the question of when. And a more critical question: are we ready when it comes?
The show picked a few representative fields in this preparation for battle, each with a human story. I like the arrangement, and the way the story was told. Infectious disease is also a huge public health issue, with multiple fronts all into play, the socioeconomic status of the community in question, the medical facility with the right personnel, equipment and emergency system in place, the science in multifaceted fronts, including the search and identification of the new virus from the possible animal hosts- birds, bats, ducks, chickens, pigs, and the development of new and more effective vaccines, the healthcare policies and the concerted global collaboration and effort. As said by one of the doctors in the show, in this day and age, “It takes one person — one host — to lead to a pandemic. “
We met several people on the frontlines, including Dr. Syra Madad, the senior director of New York City Health & Hospitals’ Special Pathogens Program, which helps develop public health strategy to ready the Big Apple for major diseases; Dr. Dennis Carroll, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Threats Unit director; a small town do-it-all doctor from Oklahoma Jefferson county hospital; a WHO healthcare expert working in Africa to try to help contain Ebola virus; scientists working in the fields in Egypt and Louisiana, swapping bats and ducks for the flu viruses they carry; biotech scientists who race to develop the new universal flu vaccine; an Indian doctor with a huge clinic in his care; and worker at the border to give flu shots to the migrants. We also get to know them in person, their upbringing, background, their day-to-day lives, their aspirations, their beliefs, their faith, their struggle, both in work and at home, each with entirely different backgrounds and experiences, yet all working to give, to sacrifice, to prepare, to fight.
The looming threat is real and maybe imminent, but by the end of the show, I feel more hopeful, because of the human resilience and spirit. No one will be 100% ready for any big battle, but as one, we will be able to fight. We will prevail.