Some of the mostly deadly Epidemics in history include Polio, AIDS, Malaria
and Chloera. To this day, we struggle to find cures in time to cope with the
spead of new and old diseases. AIDS is one of the “youngest” diseases, having
first been discovered in the 1980’s when it began to spead around the world.
HIV is a virus that may cause an infection but AIDS can develop when HIV has
caused damage to the immune system. Since the 1980’s, AIDS has taken the
lives of over 25 million people 1. Originally people believed that only certain
people were at risk for AIDS. They were named the “four-H club.”
Hemophilliacs ; who recieve contaminated blood transfusions,
Homosexual men ; a large number of individuals were reported to be infected,
Heroin users ; any drug users who use and share needles with infectants,
Haitian orgin ; a large number of cases were reported in Haiti.
However, by 1984 more research had taken place and more was known about
the spread of the disease. It was established females could also get HIV through
sex. Currently there is no cure for HIV dispite 30 years of research, although
there are treatments that allow people to live a long and healthy life. Before
this treatment was widely used in the United States, the death rate in the US
was in the region of fourty percent, the leading cause of death for adults 25 to
44 years old.
HIV is thought to have come from non-human primates in Africa. Infecting
humans in central Africa around the early 1970s. It wasn’t until ten years later
when the disease had spread round the globe that it was suspected a deadly
virus had broken out. It wasn’t formally identified until 1984 and since that
time it has been the leading killer in communicable disease over the last three
decades. Without treatment, the illness is long and insidious resulting in death
after around ten years of being infected.
After World War II public heath strategy was to eliminate and conrol organisms
which cause disease. In 1978 the ‘Health for all, 2000’ accord was signed by the
United Nations with the aim to eradicate all disease by the year 2000. AIDS
was not yet known and scientists believed microbes were biologically stationary
targets. We know now microbes and the organisms that transmit them are in
a constant state of biological flux and evolution hence the accord was not only
optimistic but also highly unrealistic.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most stressed dangers of our era. Nearly a
decade after the U.S military first supplied penicillin to its feild physicians, ge-
neticist Joshua Lederberg demonstracted that natural selection was operating
in the bacterial world. Use of antibiotics was (and still is) creating ever more
HIV is treated with antivetroviral medication, this works by stopping the virus
replicating in the body. This allows the immune system to heal and give the
body a chance to fight off any other illnesses. A mix of different drugs is used
so that it is hard for the virus to become resistant as HIV has been found to
quickly adapt to just one antiretroviral drug.
AIDS is particularly deadly in under-developed countries where treatment is ex-
pensive and difficult to get hold of. As a sexually transmitted disease, HIV/AIDS
effects mostly young adults whose death leaves behind a number of orphans. A
child born from an infected mother has around a 30 percent chance of contract-
ing the disease at birth if the mother is not being treated. This threat is also
continued during breast feeding. Unfortunatly, due to their young immune sys-
tem, a baby born with AIDS only has a couple years to live without treatment.
Economically for individual families in these developing worlds, the struggle
is magnified when members of the family are ill. There are less breadwinners
as members of the family must leave work due to illness or to care for another
family member. This is discussed in greater detail in the 1997 paper by Bloom
and Majal titled “Does the AIDS epidemic threaten Economic Growth”.
Tremedous progress against AIDS over the past 15 years has resulted in the
UNAIDS goal of ending the epidemic by 2030. Acoording to UNAIDS (2018)
the number of people in 2016 living with AIDS was 36.7 million, 20.9 million of
whom are on antiretroviral drugs. Dispite efforts to slow the spread of the virus,
1.6 million people (in 2016) contracted AIDS. However, only 1 million died as
a result of the virus.
From this table you can see that the developing countries have a higher number
of people living with HIV. In developed countries such as the UK, medication
is a lot easier to access and so the spread of the virus is easier to slow. There is
also a lot more public knowledge and education on the prevention of the spread
of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. This is one the many aims
of charities trying to present the spread of AIDS; to educate those who do not
know the dangers of contracting HIV. There are three main factors that could
result in the failure to reach the 2030 goal of ending the AIDS epidemic; failure
of political commitment to the cause leading to lack of money to educate and
provide treatment and improper implemention of schemes set out. There was a
United Nations decleration set out in 2016 on ending AIDS with the target to
reduce new HIV infections to less that 500,000 by 2020. If we look at Figure
1 below, we see that if the spread continues to decline, there is a chance this
target will be reached.
As HIV is incureable, the number of infected people is still on the rise (Figure
2). However the number of deaths due to HIV is steadily decreasing (Figure 3).
AIDS-related deaths have fallen 48 percent since the peak in 2005. This is down
to goverments increasing their funding of aid towards tackling the HIV epidemic.
Medication became more accessible in eastern and southern Africa especially,
which resulted in less AID-related deaths. With funding still taking place if it
hoped that the declining trend will continue and the epidemic will be stopped
by 2030, 50 years after it is thought to have started.
Unlike HIV/AIDS one of the most infamous Epidemics in history, the Great
Plague, had a short but deadly life, killing around one third of the population of Europe in just over 2 years. It was the last major epidemic stemmed from
the bubonic plague to occur in England. The 1665-1666 epidemic is remem-
bered most as it was the last big outbreak of the Black Death pandemic. The
Great Plague was on a far smaller scale than the earlier pandemic. The scale of
the Black Death is largely down to the conditions Europe was in at the time.
Towards the end of the 13th century, the climate entered a colder phase which resulted in poor harvests. Food scarcity and starvation caused the 1315-1317
famine leaving the population vulnerable to disease. Not only did morbality
rates increase, but marriages decreased, resulting in the decrease of Europe’s
population by 10 percent. The population was weakened by malnutritionand
other diseases, making it easier for an epidemic to break out. It is widely known
that the main cause of the fast spread of the Black Death was the black rats
trasported as stowaways across Europe.
The book Black Death by Robert S. Gottfried details how exactly the Black
Death spread across Europe. Records at the time were well detailed however
research to the very first place the Black Death is disputed by historians. It’s
difficult to pin point the exact beginning of an epidemic at that time due to the
lack of knowledge of diseases and the spead they travel.
The Black Death wasn’t recognised as an epidemic until a few years after it is thought to have started spreading. From 1346 when it is thought the first cases
emerged, right up to the Great Fire of London in 1666 the Black Death re-
peatedly had outbreaks and although it hasn’t fully vanished the Great Plague
was the last major outbreak of the epidemic. We see that events like the Great
Fire of London are not events that can be predicted, and so when modelling
epidemics there are always factors we can’t take into account that may have a
major effect of the spread of disease.
Before the fire in 1666, the Black Death did have a number of outbreaks across
Europe and although many people died the death rate would slow before another
outbreak. This is similar to the predator-prey dynamic, thinking of the para-
site that spreads the Black Death as the predator and humankind as the prey.
Then we get the relationship shown in Figure 5. It has long been assumed that Epidemics often cause a lot of hatred and blame to apposing groups. Although
recently, there has been articles contesting this; stating that in-fact epidemics
more often brought societies together rather than turning them agaisnt each
other. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a current issue recognised across the world.
A lot is being done to tackle the virus and thanks to modern medicine the fu-
ture looks promising. At the time of the Great Plague science and medicine was
negligible, however it was party to do with the London Fire that the epidemic
was dramatically halted.
Even if we reach the goal to erradicate the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2030 with
modern medicine, it would have taken 50 years to get this mordern-day epidemic
under control. The two epidemics although centuries apart, have similarities.
They both have killed a large number of people, destroyed families and effected
largly the economies of nations. Both are not just about how many people die,
it’s the present and lasting impact they cause on society and the globe as a whole.
Epidemics have been around for as long as humankind can recall, and it is unlikely they will not continue to break out for the rest of our time on this
planet. The more we understand about them, the more we can do to restrict
and prevent their destruction. This is why so much research has gone into
epidemic modelling as it allows scientists to predict and help prevent global