When Jesus was asked about signs of his return he included pestilences but made it clear that these were not a sign that that the End is near but what he called “the beginning of birth pains [of the Messiah]” – a reminder of and pointer towards the End. Hence we should take note of them whilst praying for and helping those affected by them
The danger of man-made pandemics
There is concern amongst scientists about the danger of man-made pandemics. Filippa Lentzos, a senior research fellow in the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London wrote about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in December 2014. She pointed out that scientists are “tinkering with viruses to make them more deadly and more able to spread.” During the Cold War this was done in order to use them in biological weapons. But now it is done for “gain-of-function” experiments. These are experiments which enhance bacteria or viruses, giving them functions not found “in the wild” so that scientists can assess the danger of pandemics. There is real concern that such enhanced bacteria or viruses could escape and actually cause a pandemic. For example, scientists have created an enhanced avian flu which can spread between mammals, not just birds.
Then there is the problem of mistakes made by laboratories. In 2015 the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah mistakenly sent live anthrax to commercial labs in nine states – California, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin – and South Korea. Gigi Kwik Gronyall, a senior associate at the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said that such mistakes are “a problem that happens pretty regularly.” In 2014 it was reported that high-security British laboratories handling very dangerous viruses and bacteria have reported over 100 accidents in the previous five years.
The effect of climate change
The World Health Organisation has stated that “climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.” However other experts regard this as a conservative estimate. Even the warming of the oceans can cause an algal bloom (a rapid increase of the number of algae) which can cause infections to humans.
The effect of increased population movement
The increased global movement of refugees and others will clearly also spread infectious diseases. The WHO warns that Zika is spreading across the Americas and epidemiologists warn this could lead to 4 million cases per year over the continent. An article on Ebola in the science journal ‘Nature’ in January 2016 said: “there are other lethal viruses that could cause as much suffering as Ebola has in West Africa, or even more. This outbreak has demonstrated that the world is much more vulnerable to global epidemics than anyone realized two years ago.” It warned that “The world isn’t equipped to deal with international public-health crises, especially in poor countries.”
Failure to cope with epidemics
A recent UN report has warned that a global epidemic far worse than Ebola could kill millions because the world is not prepared to deal with such epidemics. The UN panel on the subject said that the World Health Organisation should set up a center for emergency response and that this centre “must have real command and control capacity” with the best surveillance technology. Countries must comply with this.
There is real concern that the US declared measles eradicated in 2000 but by 2014 the country had 667 cases from 27 states. The question has been raised that if the US can’t prevent the spread of an easily preventable disease that “was eradicated” what hope is there of preventing more serious diseases?
Dr David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on Ebola, warned the world to prepare for more major outbreaks of diseases which can pass from animals to humans which he said were a “local and global threat to humanity”. He added that climate change was increasing the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes, causing a threat to millions more people from malaria, dengue fever, etc.
The effect of antibiotic resistance
The growing resistance to antibiotics is a huge threat to human health. It is estimated that some 25,000 people die every year in the European Union from infections caused by bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics and this could grow to 390,000 by 2025. Experts are warning that this could lead to routine operations becoming fatal and many drugs becoming ineffective. It is estimated that resistance to antibiotics could lead to 10 million deaths per annum by 2050. Some calculate this could cost the global economy $100 trillion.
 Fact Sheet No 266 Sept 2015. See http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/