Throughout the history of humanity, there has been epidemics and pandemics that have caused millions of death and economic losses. The advent of Covid-19 gives the opportunity to revisit the various pandemics and epidemics that had a lasting and changing global impact throughout the centuries.
430 (Before Christ) – The Plague of Athens originated from Sub-Saharan Africa and migrated to the ancient Greece. It was an epidemic that devastated the city state of Athens during the second year of the Peloponnesian War. By various scholars account, the epidemic killed 25% of the population numbered between 250,000-300,000.
165 to 180 AD – The Antonine Plague killed 5 million of people over the course of years in the Roman Empire according to historians. At some point, it killed 2000 people a day in Rome. The virus originated from China and migrated to the Roman Empire with a devastated effect on the population.
(541-542 AD, with multiple relapses until 750) – The Plague of Justinian is a pandemic that affected many cities around the Mediterranean Sea and Eastern Romain Empire. The capital Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire was severely affected with millions of people dying for close to three centuries. The daily death rate reached 5000 once the plague widely spread in the entire Europe. The Plague was so deadly that no one was safe including the Emperor Justinian, who caught the disease but survived. About 30 to 100 million people die from the plague. The plague originated from China and India.
(1334 – 1353) The Great Plague or Black Death – originated from China in 1334 and widely spread in Europe and Romain Empire. According to historians, the pandemic may have killed 200 million people over the course of many centuries and devastated more than half of the European population at the time.
(1817 – Present, with multiple outbreaks throughout the years) Cholera – The pandemic originated in 1817 and spread rapidly throughout India, Southeast Asia, Middle East and the rest of the world. There has been more than 6 cholera pandemics in various parts of the world and the disease has killed millions of people. During the 19th century, the first three pandemics killed more than 15 million people while the next three pandemics caused another 23 million death and the current 7th pandemic claims between 21000 to 143000 deaths on a yearly basis according to the WHO.
(1889 – 1890) Russian Grippe – Originated from Bukhara in the Russian Empire, and the pandemic killed around 1 million people. This pandemic was the first to be reported by the media through newspapers and was described as the world’s first media pandemic by historians recollections.
(1918 – 1920) Spanish Grippe – Originated from China and is recorded by many historians as one of the deadliest pandemics in history with a death toll ranging between 20-50 million people. The pandemic was named Spanish flu because of the highest rate of infection registered in the country compared to other nations.
(1957 – 1958) – Asian Grippe – originated from China and killed more than 1 million people according to the Center for Disease Control.
(1968 – 1969) – Hong Kong Grippe – originated from China and the global pandemic killed about 1 million people all over the world.
(1983 – present) – HIV – The virus that causes AIDS originated from West Equatorial Africa and was discovered in 1983 by scientists after several years of opportunistic infections detected in previously healthy people signaling some form of deficiency in the immune system. According to the World Health Organization, about 75 millions of people have been infected with the virus and more than 33 million people have died form AIDS related illnesses since the onset of the disease, which was categorized, a pandemic in 2005.
(Dec 2019 – Present) – Covid-19 – originated from Wuhan, China with the first case diagnosed on November 17, 2019 and rapidly spreading in the country and worldwide. As of April 23, 2020, there are 2.79 million confirmed cases worldwide and 179000 deaths with 781000 recoveries according to the WHO, which declared the deadly virus a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Prior to that date, the WHO declared a global emergency on January 30,2020 signaling the importance of Covid-19 outbreak in the public health model. So far, more than 50000 people have died in the US, more than 25000 in Italy, more than 22000 in Spain, more than 21000 in France and a little under19000 in the UK according to the report from statistica.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the COVID-19 crisis as the most significant test humanity has faced since World War II. Superpower countries have spent years building massive nuclear programs and global counterterrorism strategies while delaying response and scientific models in preparation for future pandemics. The 43rd and 44th President of the United States warned the national and international communities of the impending threat of a global pandemic if nothing is done sooner to prepare adequate response to the scientific data intelligence. President George Bush in a speech at the National Institutes of Health on November 1, 2005 warned by stating “’If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare” as he believed based on intelligence that another pandemic was to occur, and President Obama on December 2, 2014 reiterated that claim and assessment by urging the world to implement measures necessary to prevent and prepare for an eventual pandemic so that we could “See it quickly, isolate it quickly, and respond to it quickly”. The impact of Covi-19 around the world in less than 6 months confirms their statements and lack of global preparedness to the pandemic.
World Health Organization. (2019). World Health Statistics, 2019.
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics. (2019). Health, United States, 2019.