Viewpoint: Why 14th century Venice may hold the key to overcoming the Ebola epidemic

The way in which Venice dealt with the plague outbreak in the 14th century may hold lessons on how to handle today's emerging threats, such as Ebola, according to an article appearing in Springer's journal Environment Systems and Decisions.

Igor Linkov, PhD, research scientist in the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Concord, Mass., led the article and according to him, when in 1347 Venice became the epicenter of the plague epidemic, the city eventually began to utilize what we would now call 'resilience management.'

State authorities in Venice focused on managing physical movement, social interactions and data collection for the city as a system. This included a system of inspection, quarantine stations on nearby islands, quarantine periods and wearing protective clothing. This allowed Venice to largely overcome the epidemic, with the exception of sporadic episodes of plague, while plague continued to ravage Greece and southern Europe for centuries.

Resilience management addresses the ability of a complex system — such as a city or community — to prepare, absorb, recover and adapt to unexpected threats. Dr. Linkov and his colleagues note that those grappling with the current Ebola epidemic can learn the lessons of resilience management from 14th century Venetians.

"Resilience management can be a guide to dealing with the current Ebola outbreak in Africa, and others like it, as well as other issues like population growth and the impacts of global climate change," states Dr. Linkov. "Similar to what the officials of Venice did centuries ago, approaching resilience at the system level provides a way to deal with the unknown and unquantifiable threats we are facing at an increasing frequency."

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