THE term “black swan,” as we understand it in our 21st-century world, is an old metaphor that actually dates back to at least Roman times, appearing in the work of the poet Juvenal. It is an unexpected event of extreme impact. We are barely into the second month of 2016 year, and we have already been introduced to a new one. Its name is “Zika.”
The explosive – and frightening – spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus seems to have caught the entire world off-guard. Even the early indications are that, because of the infection’s particularly insidious characteristic of causing severe birth defects, it will have public health consequences for years to come.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency because of the unexpected spread of the virus. That was in no way an overreaction on the agency’s part, and we should not take it lightly.
The Philippines is fortunate that we have not yet seen the disease here – as far as anyone knows now – but given our growing popularity as a tourist destination and the fact that one in ten Filipinos lives and works in a foreign country, the sensible assessment is that the appearance of the first Zika cases in this country is just a matter of time.
That of course is an alarming prospect. The carrier of the virus – the aedes aegypti mosquito – flourishes here in our pleasant tropical climate; we’re already familiar with it as the carrier of dengue fever and malaria, among other things. The Philippines has a large population of people who are most at risk from the Zika virus, and we have a public health system that, with all due respect to the hard-working professionals who are a part of it, has suffered for years from a chronic lack of proper funding and government policy administration.
Despite the handicaps, however, we can take comfort in one thing our government has consistently done well through at least two Administrations, and that is to take an aggressive approach to detecting and stopping the various plagues that have troubled the world from gaining much, if any, toehold in the Philippines. We successfully avoided SARS, bird flu, swine flu, and MERS. There is no reason why we cannot, given our experience, successfully keep Zika from our shores. The inconvenience the effort may cause is a small price to pay compared with the damage this disease could inflict on our people and the country’s reputation as a tourist and business destination.
We urge the government not to lower its guard, and to implement the protocols that have had good results in the past. In doing so, we may just set an example for the rest of the world on how to deal with the “black swan” named Zika.