C. ASSAf Policymakers' Booklets

About this Collection

Policymakers' Booklets are summaries of Consensus Study Reports aiming at making scientific information accessible to policymakers and the general public.

Peer-Review Status: Peer-Reviewed

Enquiries: Susan Veldsman


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    Essential facts about Covid-19: the disease, the responses, and an uncertain future. For South African learners, teachers, and the general public
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2021) Bucher, Martin (ed); Mall, Anwar Suleman (ed); Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
    The first cases of a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) were identified toward the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. Over the following months, this virus spread to everywhere in the world. By now no country has been spared the devastation from the loss of lives from the disease (Covid-19) and the economic and social impacts of responses to mitigate the impact of the virus. Our lives in South Africa have been turned upside down as we try to make the best of this bad situation. The 2020 school year was disrupted with closure and then reopening in a phased approach, as stipulated by the Department of Education. This booklet is a collective effort by academics who are Members of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and other invited scholars to help you appreciate some of the basic scientific facts that you need to know in order to understand the present crisis and the various options available to respond to it. We emphasise that the threat of infectious diseases is not an entirely new phenomenon that has sprung onto the stage out of nowhere. Infectious diseases and pandemics have been with us for centuries, in fact much longer. Scientists have warned us for years of the need to prepare for the next pandemic. Progress in medicine in the course of the 20th century has been formidable. Childhood mortality has greatly decreased almost everywhere in the world, thanks mainly, but not only, to the many vaccines that have been developed. Effective drugs now exist for many deadly diseases for which there were once no cures. For many of us, this progress has generated a false sense of security. It has caused us to believe that the likes of the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic, which caused some 50 million deaths around the world within a span of a few months, could not be repeated in some form in today’s modern world. The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that as new cures for old diseases are discovered, new diseases come along for which we are unprepared. And every hundred or so years one of these diseases wreaks havoc on the world and interferes severely with our usual ways of going about our lives. Today’s world has become increasingly interconnected and interdependent, through trade, migrations, and rapid air travel. This globalisation makes it easier for epidemics to spread, somewhat offsetting the power of modern medicine. In this booklet we have endeavoured to provide an historical perspective, and to enrich your knowledge with some of the basics of medicine, viruses, and epidemiology. Beyond the immediate Covid-19 crisis, South Africa faces a number of other major health challenges: highly unequal access to quality healthcare, widespread tuberculosis, HIV infection causing AIDS, a high prevalence of mental illness, and a low life expectancy, compared to what is possible with today’s medicine. It is essential that you, as young people, also learn about the nature of these new challenges, so that you may contribute to finding future solutions.
©The Author/Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)