Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ebola management lessons from 14th century Venice

Catherine Paddock in Medical News Today: Lessons from the past can help us deal with today's emerging threats like drug- resistance, infectious disease outbreaks, climate change and even terrorism, say experts who studied the response of Italy's city, Venice, when it was visited by the plague in the 14th century.

The approach the Venetians took is an example of resilience management, write the authors of a study on the subject published in the journal Environment Systems and Decisions. Lead author Igor Linkov, of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center and a visiting professor at the Ca Foscari University in Italy, says: "Resilience management can be a guide to dealing with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa, and others."

Venice was an important maritime power and commercial hub for trade into central Europe, when it was struck by the deadly plague in 1347. At first, the Venetians responded by intensifying prayers and rituals, but when that did not work, their efforts took the form of what experts today call resilience management.

The authorities did not focus on the disease itself, which they did not understand, but on what they could manage: the movements of people, social interactions and surveillance. For example, they instituted a system of inspection, set up quarantine perio
ds with isolation stations on nearby islands, and issued protective clothing.

...Drawing parallels with the current Ebola outbreak, Prof. Linkov points to economic and cultural factors that impede risk management in West Africa. It will take time to overcome the deeply rooted traditions that are helping the spread of the virus and the local people's mistrust in what the authorities are trying to do to contain it.

But there are things that health experts and national leaders can do to bolster other parts of the system to be more resilient to re-emergence of the disease. To apply the principles of resilience management, you have to view the city or community as a complex system so it can prepare, absorb, recover and adapt to unexpected threats, says Prof. Linkov, who adds: "Similar to what the officials of Venice did centuries ago, approaching resilience at the system level provides a way to deal with the unknown and unquantifiable threats we are facing at an increasing frequency."...

Punta della Dogana, in Venice, shot by Ggonnell/Fav, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license 

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