The Levellers: Death, Disease and Calamity

The Levellers: Death, Disease and Calamity
The Levellers: Death, Disease and Calamity

Africa-Press – Lesotho. During my student days at Royal College Curepipe studying poetry, and reciting it when ordered by the class teacher, was an integral part of our learning right from Form I onwards, in both English and French.

Some of these poems left a lifelong impact on several of us, even those who took to the science stream, like myself. One such poem was a 17th century remembrance poem by James Shirley, titled ‘Death The Leveller’, and the following lines will no doubt strike a chord with many:

Death lays his icy hand on kings: Sceptre and Crown Must tumble down, And in the dust be equal made With the poor crooked scythe and spade. As can be seen, the poem is about ‘the dismal march of death that tramples down human pride and pomp.

It presents a vividly personified picture of death as the ultimate conqueror in whose realm perfect equality prevails,’ as much as it portrays the ‘transitoriness of mundane glories, the permanence of death and the reality of dying.
‘War, disease and famine’ make up the triad that used to affect all countries and decimate populations in all countries before the advent of industrialization and modernity. Wars and famines are less frequent, thought the risk still exists as Ukraine demonstrates.

The major infectious diseases that used to affect all countries equally are now under control with the availability of vaccines and the application of well-known public health measures, though in some lesser developed and developing countries diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis are still endemic.

Relatives at a mass burial of Covid pandemic victims at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, mourn a family member.

Pic- Getty Images

The democratization of risks

However, in the past couple of decades there has been what one could call a ‘democratisation of risks,’ that is, both the rich and the poor world — and those in between – are threatened in equal measure by calamities that are regularly occurring on a large scale, as well as by emerging new diseases in epidemic and pandemic proportions on the backdrop of a rising burden of non-communicable diseases or NCDs.

Along with death, they have become the new levellers across all countries whatever the level of development. As regards disease, one could start with HIV-Aids which began in the 1980s and has spread to the whole world.

It is far from being under control, has caused millions of deaths, and no vaccine is in sight as yet, although treatment is available to those who can afford it. The most dramatic recent example of a leveller disease is undoubtedly the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rapidity with which it spread from Wuhan in China to the rest of the world not only generated panic, but overwhelmed the health systems in even the richest countries.

Besides the gaps in the resources needed for treatment and for disposable of the mounting dead numbers, it brought the countries to an economic and social standstill that soon became a worldwide phenomenon, including our own country.

Even as its impacts are still being felt, it has now become endemic, with variants that are expected to keep surfacing and that will perpetuate the threat.

On top of that, there is also the quasi-probability of new pandemics appearing, and most likely caused by a respiratory virus, which spreads more rapidly through air since we all have to breathe.

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