We Live in a Time of Cholera:

Pandemics Past and Present

From Planet 239

by Paul O’Leary

Paul O’Leary discusses why some pandemics dominate the headlines and others are forgotten. He looks at the narratives that pandemics generate: whether disease as an allegory of political malaise or a catalyst for radical reform. What will be the legacy of Covid‐19?

We live in a time of cholera.

Since 1961 a variety of countries in the Global South, as well as the former Soviet Union, have experienced outbreaks of the seventh cholera pandemic that affects around 2.9 million people annually and kills some 95,000 each year. The World Health Organisation recorded outbreaks in twenty-four countries in 2018, and evidence from Yemen indicates that it still represents a grave threat. It is the longest-lasting pandemic in history, yet it occupies little space in the consciousness of those who live in wealthier countries for whom the word ‘cholera’, if familiar at all, is thought of as a nineteenth-century curiosity. Why we are acutely aware of some global diseases but not others is partly down to whether we are threatened directly by them, but it is also a product of how we place understandings of illness and disease in cultural frameworks. The spread of cholera (Vibrio cholerae) provides a case study of how that happens.

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