Essential facts about COVID-19: the disease, the responses, and an uncertain future, comes under the spotlight in a booklet commissioned by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). The launch took place on Monday, 2 August, the report aimed at South African pupils, teachers and the general public.
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 around 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 national Department of Education.
This booklet is a collective effort by academics who are members of ASSAf and other invited scholars to help understand some of the basic scientific facts that are needed to understand the present crisis and the various options available to respond to it.
The booklet emphasises that the threat of infectious diseases is not an entirely new phenomenon that has sprung out of nowhere. Infectious diseases and pandemics have been present for centuries, in fact much longer. Scientists have warned for years of the need to prepare for the next pandemic.
In this booklet the Academy has tried to provide a 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 with what is possible with today’s medicine. It is essential that young people also learn about the nature of these new challenges, so that they may contribute to finding future solutions.
COVID-19 remains a major challenge worldwide that has not yet been overcome. On the positive side, the campaign to develop vaccines against the disease has been immensely successful. The presently available vaccines are much more effective than had initially been hoped. However, in South Africa and elsewhere, there are many who are hesitant to be vaccinated, and this is a major impediment to slowing down and stopping the disease.
This situation highlights the importance of disseminating basic knowledge about science and medicine to the broader public. It does not suffice to have a high level of scientific knowledge concentrated among a small group of experts. This is even more true today, when because of the internet, much false information is being disseminated. Consequently, the ability to distinguish reliable information from less trustworthy information is an extremely important skill.
The Academy trusts that this booklet will contribute to educating the South African public about the essential facts that everyone should know regarding COVID-19 and the present crisis.
Issued by the Academy of Science of South Africa