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10 Of The World’s Most Severe Pandemics

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The World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the new coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic” due to the severity of the disease. The number of coronavirus infections has crossed 167 million cases, with more than 3 million deaths worldwide. According to WHO, a “pandemic” is a worldwide spread of a new disease at the same period, affecting a huge number of people.

If this is the most dreaded pandemic in world history, let’s check out 10 of the worst pandemics in history that caused distress worldwide:

1. The Great Plague of London

One of the most dreaded plagues that arose in London from 1665–1666, killing more than 1,00,000 people across the state. The plague was so bad that all the public places and gatherings were banned for months and people painted a red cross on their doors with the mercy forgiveness plea, “Lord have mercy upon us”. This depicts the worst condition of the plague counter in the 17th century.

2. The Spanish Flu

This 1918 influenza pandemic is among the most severe pandemics in recent history. The disease spread very quickly, decimating one-third of the world population. As many as 50 million died during that time. It is considered to be the most grievous hit of influenza in history.

3. The Asian Flu

The 1957–58 outbreak, also known as “Asian flu“, was a global pandemic that originated from China is regarded as an appalling influenza. It took around one million lives, making it one of the top worst-hit pandemics in world history.

4. Swine Flu Pandemic

Before COVID-19, it was among the recent worst pandemic. The 2009 swine flu pandemic was caused by a new wave of H1N1, which spread worldwide, creating havoc. It took the lives of 1–5 lakh people between 2009–2010. The 2009 flu primarily affected children and young adults, and 80% of its deaths were in people younger than 65.


HIV Test
Representative Image.

HIV/AIDS is the one we are still battling. It’s still here, making HIV a chronic condition or disease. The end of this contagion still seems to be a long way. And the medication process is still in progress of the solution. The earliest recognised case is believed to be in 1959 in Congo. As of the statistics, at least 60 million people have contracted AIDS and more than 20 million people have died.

6. Black Death Plague

This is among the worst bubonic plague pandemics in human history, with a death toll of more than 100 million people. It is also called the black death, which began in 1346 and ended in 1353. The disease originated from rats in travelling ships, which docked in ports giving new breeding grounds.

The Black Death plague afflicted Africa, Europe and Asia. It was caused by rats making it the worst epidemic in human history and more than 100 million people lost their lives.

7. SARS Outbreak

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) also caused havoc in 2002–2003 in Asia and Canada and other countries. It is caused by the highly infectious coronavirus SARS CoV. The virus speeded quickly and spread to 37 countries globally within a matter of weeks. The virus has symptoms like fever, chills and body aches and usually progressed to pneumonia.

The virus was contained in 2004, and since then, there are no reported cases of the SARS virus, but it is counted among the most serious virus of all time.

8. Antonine Plague

Another most extreme plague that hit the masses was the Antonine Plague that occurred in 165 AD killing more than 5 million people in the European region. It also spread to Asia, but in fewer regions. The symptoms were measles. Medical professionals were unable to deduct the reasons behind this, but it is also considered among the worst pandemic in the history of the world during the medieval period.

9. COVID-19

health officials in ppe
Representative Image.

Covid-19 emerged in November 2019, in the region of Wuhan, China. The new virus spread quickly in people and with its pace, it has covered almost half of the world under its grip. The WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic in March, and by the end of that month, the world saw more than a half million people get infected with it.

With the coronavirus pandemic, people worldwide have become more aware and cautious about hand-washing, social distancing, etc. Countries worldwide have initiated and executed several safety measures by closing schools, businesses and public places. No one can predict the outcome of Covid-19, but with safety measures and precautions, we can win this in the long term.

10. Plague of Justinian

One of the most dreaded and second primogenital pandemics happened in history. It is said that it was the first bubonic plague in world history. It was first documented during the Constantinople Empire in 541 CE.

The plague speeded like wildfire across Europe, Asia, North Africa and other nations, killing more than 20 million people, as much as half the population. It’s considered among the most grievous pandemics of all time.

The most important aspect is that a disease isn’t inevitable; many countries have grappled with such pandemics from time to time. Here we can only make an effort to curb it, while some are successful in doing so and others may not. Nothing can devastate a pandemic, but nothing can fight the pandemic like us humans.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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