An alarming outbreak of a rare pneumonic plague has spread across various areas in Madagascar. According to the country’s Ministry of Public Health, 36 have tragically died and 258 more are ill as of Friday. Out of 114 districts, twenty are affected by the said deadly disease.
Many may remember this sickness as the root of the “Black Death” in the Middle Ages, which tore a huge portion of Europe’s population by taking the lives of 50 million people. However, there are still instances of these cases in the United States. Plague is caused by Yersinia Pestis, a bacteria which usually comes from small mammals like rats and their fleas. The Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and spreads from person to person through coughing and its incubation can be as short as 24 hours, which makes it more dangerous than the bubonic plague.
As a response to the epidemic, Madagascar is momentarily shutting down public institutions such as schools and universities across the country so buildings and different infrastructures can be sprayed with insecticides. Government authorities also cancelled public gatherings in the capital, such as sporting events, in an attempt to avoid the continuous spreading of the plague.
The disease’s flare-up is traced back to a 31-year-old Tamatave resident, who was diagnosed with a malaria-like illness on Aug. 23, according to health officials. The man traveled through Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital and died on the way. They also found out that many people he made contact with also spread the sickness.
According to World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic, the organization is concerned “that plague could spread further because it is already present in several cities, and this is only the start of the epidemic season.”
Is Madagascar prepared and ready to treat its affected citizens?
Katharina Kreppel, an epidemiologist who spent four years conducting field research in Madagascar, said that although scientists in the country have monitored plague patterns for several years and have enough knowledge to alleviate the spread of the disease, the money and resources to do so aren’t available.
There are not enough funds allotted for insecticides and spraying equipment. Kreppel also emphasized that there aren’t a lot of health facilities to house quarantined patients.
She also said that resources are abundant in countries like the United States and throughout Europe, which would quickly control the growth of plague cases if ever it happened there.
Thankfully, the WHO have lent a helping hand by delivering nearly 1.2 million doses of antibiotics to the Ministry of Health this week. In addition to this, the organization also allocated around $1.5 million to fight the plague.
Dr. Charlotte Ndiaye, a WHO representative in Madagascar, also said that the “plague is curable if detected in time. Our teams are working to ensure that everyone at risk has access to protection and treatment. The faster we move, the more lives we save.”