Thursday, 2 April 2020

The bubonic plague of India 1896-97 originated in China - many lessions we have learned from it

1896 plague in Bombay. scroll.in
Dr Accacio Viegas'statue in Mumbai; first to notice  plague in Mumbai scroll.in

In  1896-97, during the British Raj Bombay city and Pune of  the Bombay Presidency (now Maharastra) were ravaged by
the global 3rd plague pandemic. Caused by  the bacterium Yersinia pestis, it spreads  by fleas that reside on the dead bodies of small animals like rodents of central Asia, this infectious and dangerous disease  is capable of killing a large  swathe of the population if  properer medical care is not taken in time. The first doctor to notice the case of plague in Bombay near the harbor  was one Dr Accacio Viegas in his sixties. Being  an affable man, he had a flourishing medical practice in Bombay.  On Sept. 23 1896, a standing committee reviewed Dr. Viegas' findings on the plague cases. On 29 September, Lord Sandhurst, the Governor of Bombay, sent a telegram to Lord Elgin, the Governor General of India, notifying him of an outbreak of plague in Bombay city.
Bubonic plague www.cagle.com
The following are the causes of rapid spread of plague and the lessons we learn from it:
01. Ironically,  like Covid-19 virus that is right now turning the whole world upside down, the bubonic plague  had its origin in Western Yunnan in China.
opium  problem in China and the british supchina.com
02, It happened  when the lucrative opium trade from British India  to China was rapidly filling the British treasury with money in  the form of silver. Better sea-transport was an added advantage at that point of time. A part of Chinese population  became zombies because of opium  addiction  and supplies  from British India continued.
03. The plague began with an epidemic and started spreading among the overcrowded migrants - Han Chinese in Yunnan  killing hundreds of thousands.

04. The plague  sneaked into India via  Bombay port  from  Hong Kong as the British  were illegally dumping opium in China by running opium-laden ships between Bombay and Hong Kong. 

05. The flea-infected rodents via these opium ships landed in India  and the first case was detected in Mandavi, a crowded locality near the Bombay harbor.

06. The British, money minded as they were,  had kept  the opium trade going and the ports  functional  despite reports of plague attack. 

07. The Raj  preferred the needed silver from China to native Indians' health; their  gross  negligence in the early stages of the pandemic helped the plague spread  fast and wide.

08. The crowded, densely populated city became an easy target for the plague, a highly infectious disease. Being a commercial hub, there lived a large influx of  migrant workers in  slums and shanty places with poor sanitary conditions. Here in chawls,  many  diseases were endemic; the British never looked after the living quarters of the poor.  Over-crowding was the main problem. 

09.  In cities like Bombay,  communities like Jains, Bhatias and Banias, living in crowded places like the Chawls, were against killing of rats  due to their religious belief of ''Ahimsa''.  

10.  A section of people of  Bombay - 1896-97 refused to co-operate with the  govt guidelines.  Normally, people cutting across caste, religions, etc  have to cooperate with the government if a pandemic situation prevails. Non-cooperation meant results would be disastrous.

11. This was the time the Epidemic Disease Act of 1897  was hurriedly  drafted and introduced by the  British  the direction of Sir W.C.Rand, an arrogant officer to deal with certain sections of people.
12.  The belated anti-plague measures taken by the British  attracted many criticism and  were  widely regarded as over-stepping on the privacy of the natives.

13.  Many  national leaders, quite disappointed with the British's careless approach to the inherent health problems of the natives during the plague crisis, began to raise their voice for freedom from Britain. Their push for freedom was, this time,  loud and clear  and much stronger than ever before.   

14. The initial response to the plague outbreak was segregation and hospitalization. In October, 1896 a government order asked all persons suspected of having plague to be removed to hospitals and separated from the rest of the population.  

15. The government banned the conduct of fairs/melas and  pilgrimages  to religious places. The police stopped and road and rail travelers interrupted for inspection. 

16.  The hospitals were not well-equipped to handle a large number of cases. A greater part of the revenue from India was transferred to England for the growth of British  industries and their economy. 

17.  Crowded detention centers and people's non-cooperation further aggravated the spread of the disease. As for sanitation of towns and cities, the Raj did not take enough efforts to improve them. 
Bombay plague 1896weebly.com
18.  In addition to it, the poor natives never gave importance to the cleanliness of the surrounding places where they lived. These factors  further impacted  the spread of  plague.
The mortality rate of the natives  due to  bubonic plague in the 
Bombay Presidency could have been prevented had the Raj taken seriously  health care precautions in the early stages - the moment  first case appeared near Bombay dock.
http://navrangindia.blogspot.com/2018/02/pune-plague-1896-97-and-british.html
https://scroll.in/article/694177/the-chilling-discovery-when-the-plague-came-to-bombay-in-1896
https://www.livehistoryindia.com/history-daily/2020/03/24/lessons-from-the-bubonic-plague-of-1897