Seri kelima dalam Webinar SEATALK Pusat Studi Asia Tenggara Universitas Gadjah Mada yang dilaksanakan pada Kamis, 12 Mei 2020. Webinar ini mengundang Dr. Siddharta Chandra dari Michigan State University, USA dan Sumadi Lukman Anwar, MD., Ph.D, FKKMK UGM
Lessons from the 1918 influenza pandemic for the COVID-19 pandemic and Experience from Cancer Navigation in Indonesia
“1918 inlfluenza pandemic is the mother virus which gave birth to major global pandhemic which had taken the lives of millions of people worldwide”, said Prof. Siddarth Candra, an epidimiolgist in the WEBINAR series of South East Asia Talk, organized by the Centre of Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS), Universitas Gadjah Mada, a center of excellence in social science under the Indonesian Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education since 2016. This Webinar 36# was a cooperation between CESASS and the American Institute of Indonesian Studies (AIFIS), State University of Michigan, USA.
Not many knew that the 1918 influenza pandemic had taken more or less 50.000.000 million people worldwide. In Indonesia, the pandemic took a very heavy toll in terms of loss of life. The reduction in population due to the pandemic, which includes increased deaths and lowered births, exceeded 4 million. While the COVID-19 pandemic has not taken as many lives to date, there are nevertheless many parallels between the 1918 pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic today. For example, both illnesses are caused by a virus, for which there is no known cure. As a result, today, we are using the same kinds of measures to prevent the spread of the disease as people took in 1918 to prevent the spread of the influenza. This includes paying close attention to personal hygiene, social distancing, and avoiding travel and large gatherings of people.
Even though COVID-19 is highly contagious and cannot be cured today, there are many reasons why Indonesia’s experience with COVID-19 may end up being very different from the experience with the 1918 influenza. First, communication today is much more rapid than it was in 1918. As a result, Indonesians are in a position to share experiences and best practices with each other and with people around the world as well as to learn from the best practices and experiences of others. For example, by the time COVID-19 arrived in Indonesia, the government and large segments of the population had already heard about the experience of China, where the disease originated, and were prepared to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease. In 1918, when the influenza arrived in Java, most people were completely unaware of the disease. We also learned very rapidly that COVID-19 affects older people more severely, and were prepared to take extreme precautions to prevent them from falling ill. The 1918 influenza affected people between the ages of 20 and 40 the most severely, but there was little awareness of this fact while Indonesia was experiencing the pandemic. We also know that social distancing can be very beneficial in preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19, and have rapidly implemented measures to maintain social-distancing practices. This is especially important in crowded areas, of which there are many in Indonesia.
The most important reason to be optimistic about the global experience with COVID-19 is that we are technologically much better prepared to confront a viral pandemic today than we were in 1918. In 1918, scientists were debating the most basic questions about influenza, including whether it was caused by a virus or a bacterium. When COVID-19 arrived, we were able to sequence the genetic code of the virus within a few weeks. Today, based on that and other kinds of scientific knowledge, over 100 different candidates for vaccines are being developed and tested. In addition to the possibility of having a vaccine within the next year, we have the ability to test people for the presence of the virus and to quarantine them if necessary. We have communication technology with which we can trace contacts of infected people and quarantine them, thereby preventing the spread of the disease. In hospitals, we have ventilators to help severely ill patients breathe as their bodies fight the virus. None of these options was available during the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Also at the same important, is the latest study of the navigation of cancer surgery care in limited-resource countries during COVID-19 pandemic by Sumadi Lukman Anwar, MD, PhD from the Faculty of Medicine, Universitas Gadjah Mada. In this presentation he shared over the complexity in the health system in Indonesia especially the treatment for patients who have problem with cancer. Amid the huge gravity of Covid-19 and amid the government protocol in eliminating the spread of this pandemic, he argued that specific considerations should still be undertaken as counterbalance between on the one side preventing COVID-19 transmission and on the other side also preserving patients’ long-term life expectancy.
For all of the above reasons, in their closing statement, both scholars highlighted that today experience with COVID-19 is likely to be very different and complex. However, while we wait for the development of a vaccine or, better still, a cure, we need to remember that there are still millions of people who remain susceptible to COVID-19. The virus that causes this illness is novel, and our immune systems have not yet developed the ability to fight it. As a result, keeping these populations safe while gradually opening the economy up to provide livelihoods to millions of people is going to be an ongoing challenge until we can develop a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19.
This webinar series was moderated by Dr. phil. Vissia Ita Yulianto (CESASS) who extended the call that the task to combat the spread of Covid- 19 should not only be shouldered on the government intervention and medical workers but must also be realized by collective awareness from the public to obey the protocol from the government.
Pusat Studi Sosial Asia Tenggara (PSSAT) UGM
 Chandra, Siddharth. 2013. “Mortality from the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 in Indonesia,” Population Studies 67(2):85-93. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00324728.2012.754486