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Globalsation and pandemics

When a native population is infected with a new disease, where they have not developed antibodies through generations of previous exposure, the new disease tends to run rampant within the population
Globalsation and pandemics

Globalisation, the flow of information, goods, capital, and people across political and geographic boundaries, allows infectious diseases to rapidly spread around the world. The spread of diseases across wide geographic scales has increased through history. Early diseases that spread from Asia to Europe were bubonic plague, influenza of various types, and similar infectious diseases.

In the current era of Globalisation, the world is more interdependent than at any other time. Efficient and inexpensive transportation has left few places inaccessible, and increased global trade in agricultural products has brought more and more people into contact with animal diseases.

Globalisation intensified during the Age of Exploration, but trading routes had long been established between Asia and Europe, along which diseases were also transmitted. An increase in travel has helped spread diseases to natives of lands who had not previously been exposed. When a native population is infected with a new disease, where they have not developed antibodies through generations of previous exposure, the new disease tends to run rampant within the population.

The causes of catastrophe like infectious disease, recognizes five major modes of disease transmission: airborne, waterborne, bloodborne, by direct contact, and through insects or other creatures that carry germs from one species to another. As humans began traveling over seas and across lands which were previously isolated, research suggests that diseases have been spread by all five transmission modes.

In Europe during the age of exploration, diseases such as smallpox, measles and tuberculosis (TB) had already been introduced centuries before through trade with Asia and Africa. People had developed some antibodies to these and other diseases from the Eurasian continent. When the Europeans traveled to new lands, they carried these diseases with them. When such diseases were introduced for the first time to new populations of humans, the effects on the native populations were widespread and deadly.

Modern modes of transportation allow more people and products to travel around the world at a faster pace; they also open the airways to the transcontinental movement of infectious disease. One example is the West Nile virus. It is believed that this disease reached the United States via “mosquitoes that crossed the ocean by riding in airplane wheel wells and arrived in New York City in 1999.” With the use of air travel, people are able to go to foreign lands, contract a disease and not have any symptoms of illness until after they get home, and having exposed others to the disease along the way.

Globalisation has increased the spread of infectious diseases from South to North, but also the risk of non-communicable diseases by transmission of culture and behavior from North to South.

The Coronavirus disease is the most widely and rapidly infected global disease of this century. Coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated COVID-19, is a disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, and first appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It was first reported as a pneumonia outbreak by the Chinese government. The first death from this new strain of coronavirus was reported by the Chinese government in January 11, 2020. By January 13, the first case of COVID-19 was reported outside of China. Nearly 200 countries, territories and two international conveyances have reported cases since then, with more than 785,000 confirmed cases and more than 37,000 deaths worldwide as of March 31, 2020. Due to a lack of testing resources, the actual number of cases of the virus is unknown. Symptoms include: fever, coughing, shortness of breath, and may develop to bluish lips and face, confusion, persistent chest pain or pressure, and other flu-like symptoms.


Bubonic plague is a variant of the deadly flea-borne disease plague, which is caused by the enterobacteria, that devastated human populations beginning in the 14th century. Bubonic plague is primarily spread by fleas that lived on the black rat, an animal that originated in south Asia and spread to Europe by the 6th century. It became common to cities and villages, traveling by ship with explorers. The symptoms would be accompanied by a high fever, and within four to seven days of infection, more than half the victims would die.

The first recorded outbreak of plague occurred in China in the 1330s, a time when China was engaged in substantial trade with western Asia and Europe. The plague reached Europe in October 1347. Within Europe, the plague struck port cities first, then followed people along both sea and land trade routes. It raged through Italy into France and the British Isles. It was carried over the Alps into Switzerland, and eastward into Hungary and Russia. For a time during the 14th and 15th centuries, the plague would recede. Every ten to twenty years, it would return. Later epidemics, however, were never as widespread as the earlier outbreaks, when 60% of the population died.

The third plague pandemic emerged in Yunnan province of China in the mid-nineteenth century. It spread east and south through China, reaching Guangzhou (Canton) and the British colonial port of Hong Kong in 1894, where it entered the global maritime trade routes. Plague reached Singapore and Bombay in 1896. China lost an estimated 2 million people between plague's reappearance in the mid-nineteenth century. In India, between 1896 the 1920s, plague claimed an estimated 12 million lives, most in the Bombay province. Plague spread into the countries around the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. From China it also spread eastward to Japan, the Philippines and Hawaii, and in Central Asia it spread overland into the Russian territories from Siberia to Turkistan. By 1901 there had been outbreaks of plague on every continent.


Typhus is caused by, which is transmitted to humans through lice. In areas where rats are not common, typhus may also be transmitted through cat and opossum fleas. The incubation period of typhus is 7–14 days. The symptoms start with a fever, then headache, rash, and eventually stupor. Spontaneous recovery occurs in 80–90% of victims. The first outbreak of typhus was recorded in 1489. Historians believe that troops from the Balkans, hired by the Spanish army, brought it to Spain with them. By 1490 typhus traveled from the eastern Mediterranean into Spain and Italy, and by 1494, it had swept across Europe. From 1500–1914, more soldiers were killed by typhus than from all the combined military actions during that time.


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease.  The origins of syphilis are unknown, and some historians argue that it descended from a twenty-thousand-year-old African zoonosis. Other historians place its emergence in the New World, arguing that the crews of Columbus's ships first brought the disease to Europe. The first recorded case of syphilis occurred in Naples in 1495, after King Charles VIII of France besieged the city of Naples, Italy. The soldiers, and the prostitutes who followed their camps, came from all corners of Europe. When they went home, they took the disease with them and spread it across the continent.


Smallpox is a highly contagious disease. It is believed that smallpox first emerged over 3000 years ago, probably in India or Egypt. There have been numerous recorded devastating epidemics throughout the world, with high losses of life. Smallpox was a common disease in Eurasia in the 15th century, and was spread by explorers and invaders. After Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola during his second voyage in 1493, local people started to die of a virulent infection. Before the smallpox epidemic started, more than one million indigenous people had lived on the island; afterward, only ten thousand had survived.

During the 16th century, Spanish soldiers introduced smallpox by contact with natives of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. A devastating epidemic broke out among the indigenous people, killing thousands. In 1617, smallpox reached Massachusetts, probably brought by earlier explorers to Nova Scotia, Canada.”  By 1638 the disease had broken out among people in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1721 people fled the city after an outbreak, but the residents spread the disease to others throughout the thirteen colonies. Smallpox broke out in six separate epidemics in the United States through 1968.


Leprosy is a chronic disease. Leprosy originated in India, more than four thousand years ago. It was prevalent in ancient societies in China, Egypt and India, and was transmitted throughout the world by various traveling groups, including Roman Legionnaires, Crusaders, Spanish conquistadors, Asian seafarers, European colonists, and Arab, African, and American slave traders. Some historians believe that Alexander the Great's troops brought leprosy from India to Europe during the 3rd century BC. With the help of the crusaders and other travelers, leprosy reached epidemic proportions by the 13th century.

Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS

Tuberculosis (TB) has been one of history's greatest killers, taking the lives of over 3 million people annually. It has been called the "white plague". It is the most prevalent, life-threatening infection among AIDS patients. It has increased in areas where HIV is high. Air travel and the other methods of travel which have made global interaction easier, have increased the spread of TB across different societies.

HIV and AIDS are among the newest and deadliest diseases. According to the World Health Organisation, it is unknown where the HIV virus originated, but it appeared to move from animals to humans. It is believed that HIV arose from another, less harmful virus, that mutated and became more virulent. The first two AIDS/HIV cases were detected in 1981. As of 2013, an estimated 1.3 million persons in the United States were living with HIV or AIDS, almost 110,000 in the UK  and an estimated 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV”.


The writer, based in Melbourne, Australia, is former Director,

SAARC Human Resource Development Center (SHRDC.

E-mail: [email protected]



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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