Science must and will control novel coronavirus
David Lee
VCG Photo

VCG Photo

Editor's note: David Lee is a consultant and author based in Beijing who focuses on energy, health, international politics and international development. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN. 

Over the years, on multiple occasions, Microsoft founder and leading philanthropist Bill Gates has warned about the danger of a killing epidemic. Echoing public health experts, Bill Gates believes an outbreak today similar to the 1918 influenza pandemic originated in Spain could kill some 33 million people within the first six months.

It should be noted, though, such prediction does not come from any given health incident. Instead, the doomsday scenario is suggested by a computer-generated simulation based on historical data before modern science and medicine was available – only that the data has been scaled to match the world's current population.

It's a given fact that new pathogens emerge all the time. Also, the world population continues to grow, and humanity is increasingly encroaching on wild environments. Thanks to rising interconnectivity and advancements of modern mobility, long-distance travel, and cross-border people-to-people contact are happening even more frequently.

All these make it easier for the next major outbreak to spread even faster and become even deadlier.

That said, from a theoretical and philosophical point of view, the next major outbreak is always looming as it threatens the survival and prosperity of humankind. While appreciating this fundamental truth, there is no reason to lose heart even though humankind has had to address multiple outbreaks in quick succession from SARS to MERS and to Ebola in recent memory.

On the contrary, there is every good reason to believe that, building on all the experiences and lessons learned from past containment, mitigation, and treatment efforts, science must and will prevail over the next major outbreak.

In the face of the latest coronavirus outbreak, the world is using good science to fight the new public health threat.

First and foremost, containment has been resolutely implemented in China on a scale not seen in human history before. While declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the World Health Organization (WHO) has spoken highly of China's intervention, including the containment effort that is the key to preventing wider spread.

While scientific containment provides the basis of any further meaningful response for mitigation and treatment, recent scientific advancements are providing vital tools to turn the tide against the killing epidemics. 

Passengers line up to have body temperatures measured at a station in the subway line 5 in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan Province, January 26, 2020. /Xinhua Photo

Passengers line up to have body temperatures measured at a station in the subway line 5 in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan Province, January 26, 2020. /Xinhua Photo

For one, high throughput DNA sequencing is now more widely available. It is because of this scientific evolution that humankind has quickly decoded the full DNA sequencing of the novel coronavirus, which in turn simplifies and accelerates the diagnostic process.

In the on-going fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak, good science also provides key support for other areas, such as researching new treatment methods, developing vaccines, and even discovering potential therapeutic effects in existing drugs used for other purposes.

It's also important to note that, while providing the crucial hardware to fight the epidemics, the software side of science is equally important.

For one, the general public should be able to make sense of scientific information and have a relative capacity in identifying fake science. In the fight against epidemics, health literacy is a must for personal empowerment.

About 17 years ago, when SARS broke out in China, people rushed to purchase the isatis root, traditional Chinese medicine that had been falsely claimed to be able to kill the SARS virus. Stocks were quickly depleting, and drug store shelves quickly emptied.

The isatis root episode provided a classical example of inadequate health literacy. Now 17 years later, regrettably, similar unreasonable buying of traditional medicine based on unsubstantiated health benefit claims was happening in China again amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, clearly showing the need for science to catch up on its software side.

Also, crucially important on the software side of science is the art of coordination. To view the fight against epidemics as a complex intervention, coordination must take place to achieve cross-disciplinary cooperation, effective resource allocation, and international collaboration.

Amid previous outbreaks, the world has learned a lot about coordination. It's worth mentioning that the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (African CDC) has pretty much been the product of an internationally coordinated response to the Ebola outbreak. The birth of the African CDC sends out a strong message that the international community can successfully work together to contain and defeat a major outbreak.

As of the writing of this piece, the novel coronavirus outbreak is still raging. It's high time for science to rise up and defeat the killing outbreak again. And, for the hardware of science to prevail, good human spirits that can resist myths and sustain meaningful cooperation must prevail on the software side.

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