Lessons from the returning disease

As well as the death toll –which is currently close to 4 million people worldwide–, the way it caught us off guard made the current pandemic an apocalyptic tragedy. Not being materially or emotionally prepared for a situation like this diminished the response that, in general terms, the world gave to the spread of the coronavirus, which contributed to rekindling imageries like the one illustrated on the cover of this recent edition of Monte Ávila Editores, "The black disease", by Mike Aguiar Fagúndez. By the way, it is a detail of the oil painting "The Triumph of Death", made in the mid-XNUMXth century by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

And it would be necessary to ask, then, how could civilization not be prepared for a scenario like this. What made us believe today in the impossibility of a global plague like so many others throughout the history of humanity? How do we, the men and women who directly or directly evidence the tortuous future of the modern world, believe ourselves apart from this threat?

In turn, this new condition betrayed the certainties that a host of medical advances had established in the present. We were dumbfounded. But, however, not a hundred years had passed since the last great pandemic, the worst in history, which between 1918 and 1920 killed at least - it is not known exactly, there must have been many more - than 40 million people.

The circumstances in which it occurred, during the First World War, prompted censorship in every area of ​​proliferation. They were times of informational occlusion for strategic reasons. Spain, which remained neutral to the warlike context, paid the price, as one says: the fact of having spread information in this regard caused the world to attribute the Hispanic name to the ailment.

It would have served a great purpose if such information had been handled openly and with profusion of detail. His circumstance would have done humanity a huge favor in the face of the prospect of new, as inevitable, pandemics. And it would have been valid for scientists, who only years later would come to realize the importance of history, as "integrating large spaces and diverse temporalities", as Germán Yépez Colmenares, prologue of the book, affirms for the recognition of new forms of prevention and treatment.

Thus, this facet of the historian will emerge from the need for a globalized world in order to “approach the study of the relationship of the most diverse diseases with human beings, their diet, their habits and customs; the impact on the life and conscience or spirit of the people; the fears of diseases; how they faced them, what interpretation they assumed; what resources of nature and human elaborations used to treat them; how they learned to prevent, avoid or assume them as temporary or permanent ailments; the accumulation of knowledge and its progressive organization on the various diseases and also on the ways to treat them, overcome them or get used to their ailments; and the millenary and up-to-date preparation of preventive and curative responses ”, Yépez Colmenares points out.

"The black disease" is an attempt to review, based on what has been said, one of these relationships: the one generated by the most notorious cholera epidemic of our republican life in the area of ​​influence Caracas-La Guaira during the year 1855. The The author understands in his pedagogical intention the analysis of the outbreak that is most closely related to its political, historical, social and cultural environment, while recognizing many others that, generated by yellow fever, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles and even smallpox, will continue to appear throughout the nineteenth century in our country.

The focus of this work is defined by the need to demonstrate the importance of social factors as an inseparable element in the outbreak of the disease, beginning by highlighting the history of research that has been carried out in the Latin American context in the last 50 years. The balance is less resounding than copious, in the sense that it offers the feeling of regional consensus in the academic environment, although not of demand assumed by the governments. Aguiar Fagúndez insists throughout the text on this need, an urgency that is evident with the current pandemic, in which circumstances have forced countries, especially the so-called “first world”, to handle their crises on their own and based on the criterion of "whoever can save himself."

Returning to the book, the investigative review familiarizes us with attitudes that 170 years later do not seem to have changed at all, such as the pressure exerted then by the representatives of the economic power to exempt themselves from health control policies, arguing the usual crematistic reasons: " That same day, the merchants of the port of La Guaira, headed by the commercial house Boulton Sons H., addressed a communication to the President of the Republic [José Tadeo Monagas], where they expressed their dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction with the measure executed between the port of La Guaira and the city of Caracas. In the aforementioned letter, the merchants and residents of La Guaira affected by the measure raised their voice of protest towards the President of the Republic, 'in favor of the interests of this population and of this trade, deeply hurt and not so much wounded by the hand of God as by hand of man. '

For the rest, "The black disease" is devoted to the exhibition of a documentary collection that gives an account of the way in which the cholera epidemic affected the communities of the aforementioned axis, both from the perspective of the common citizen and from that of the government, citing a series of edicts and sanitary measures that today are eloquent about a primitive time (when the contagion was still attributed to the "bad airs" or when, because the effect of laudanum was unknown, people were buried alive), so primitive as in a few centuries we will show ourselves to those who scrutinize us with the same intention.

If, as it seems obvious, the epigraph of the book ("the incomprehension of the present is born fundamentally of the ignorance of the past") applies for the understanding of the present world, without a doubt it will also apply for the one that will happen, although the doubt arises for the same reasons . Will we bring that future to pass or will he come on his own?

 

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