The Platform


Pandemics can spread quickly in regions that are unprepared. That’s why it is crucial to collaborate on scientific and medical research.

Central Asia continues to struggle with the consequences of the pandemic, which has had a serious impact on the healthcare systems and the economies of the region. While COVID infections are down globally, experts are warning that incidences of new infectious diseases have skyrocketed which means that the next pandemic could be right around the corner.

Central Asia is especially vulnerable to new outbreaks of infectious diseases due to its geographic location, as well as many migratory routes for wild animals. A complicating factor is the lack of readiness of the health systems of the individual countries to combat these diseases due to a lack of resources, insufficient training of staff, and weak infrastructure. In this context, the cooperation of Central Asian countries is becoming more important than ever.

One of the most dangerous infectious diseases that can threaten the region, despite its “medieval” connotations, is plague. Plague is still one of the most dangerous infectious diseases that the world has ever encountered. The emergence of effective vaccinations, the latest antibiotics, and a general decrease in their spread has led to relative calm among medical specialists, and epidemiologists. As far as its origins, little is known about plague despite history telling us that three terrible plague pandemics claimed millions of lives and destabilized the region.

Scientists suggest that the beginning of these plague pandemics was related to Central Asia and that it was in this region that the plague microbe first appeared. At least this is the conclusion reached last year by researchers from the University of Stirling, the University of Tübingen, and the Institute of Physics of the Max Planck Society. They analyzed DNA from burials near Lake Issyk-Kul and found that the first outbreak of plague occurred in modern-day Kyrgyzstan in the 1330s.

Kyrgyz authorities questioned the results of the research, and a BBC article that cited the study was called “custom-made” by the country’s health ministry. However, despite the government not wanting to have plague associated with its country, in 2013, a 15-year-old from the Issyk-Kul region of Kyrgyzstan died of bubonic plague.

The reluctance to talk about plague is understandable. However, while authorities would prefer to talk about anything other than plague, it is a reality that needs to be addressed. Because of a lack of funding for science and research, this endangers the collective health of not only the Kyrgyz people but of the entire region.

In this regard, it is important to establish bridges of cooperation in the field of biological safety with other countries. This will make it possible to adopt practices, conduct joint scientific research, train personnel, organize joint work on tracking possible disease outbreaks and create common protocols and procedures for responding to future pandemics.

For example, in neighboring Kazakhstan, where the population due to environmental conditions, is a perfect incubator for plague, significant efforts have been made to prevent infection. Over the last decade, there has not been a single case of plague recorded there. The country has focused on building a national scientific center to study infectious diseases. Additionally, the government plans to build a new laboratory to study a wide range of diseases, including plague.

An approach that included biosecurity and sufficient funding allowed Kazakhstan to become the only country in Central Asia that was able to develop its own COVID vaccine. The vaccine, called QazVac, was developed by a Kazakh scientific institute and successfully passed clinical trials. QazVac allowed Kazakhstan to become more independent from vaccine imports and contributed to the development of an innovative base.

Such an example of cooperation can be useful for other Central Asian countries as well. If the countries of the region join forces, they will be able to be better prepared for possible outbreaks of infectious diseases and, thus, reduce the risks to public health and the socioeconomic stability of the region.

COVID has clearly shown that diseases don’t carry passports and will seep into a population regardless of how well a country shuts itself off from the world. In our time of globalization, the spread of viruses and infections can occur at an incredible rate. Therefore, in matters of health, cooperation is not only desirable but also necessary.

Theo Casablanca is a blogger who lives in Brasília.