Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
–– 2 Corinthians 7:1
These words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians –– which give support to Methodism’s founder John Wesley much touted mantra that “cleanliness is next to godliness” –– may offer some comfort to those of us schooled in Christian religious thought, but it ought not to have us overlooking the simple task of washing our hands, or circumventing the habit of keeping our surroundings clean and free of vermin.
Aside from Pastor Wesley’s intent to demonstrate that after the glorifying of God, the second most important and crucial act is the preservation of self, the 18th century minister’s purpose was equally to convey the idea of simply practising good hygiene for the Creator’s sake, and man’s. Pastor Wesley will not have been unmindful of the Bubonic Plague, four centuries prior, spurred by diseased rats and their fleas, that created such apocalyptic terror, the lives of 25 million –– presumably many times more –– would be snuffed out.
In those dreadful days, the Black Death, as it was called, spreading from Mongolia to Britain, made dying so commonplace that people just resigned themselves to waiting their turn to greet the Grim Reaper, the more religious looking to the end of the world and comfort in the arms of a returning Saviour.
When John Wesley in the late 1700s sought to juxtapose cleanliness with godliness, the goodly minister, having learnt from the stark lessons of life and history, was merely passing on of his gained knowledge. Sadly, fellow men do not learn from the mistakes of others, or even from their own, the manifestation of which would come in the 20th century –– 1918 to be exact –– when the Spanish flu (so named for political reasons during World War I) struck, taking out 70 million plus people worldwide.
With the influenza ever present in populations across this planet –– and with the virus being spread by direct contact, body fluides and the very air –– war and its atrocities made for a great host.
Humans perishing in their millions by disease would come again with the emergence of AIDS, which is said to have taken 30 million plus lives across the world in the last three decades. But HIV, its forerunner, has been brought under control by greater personal hygiene and antiretroviral drugs.
Now, so to speak, we are facing the outbreak of Ebola, a disease for which there is reportedly no cure and which has the world in a state of panic, giving the grizzly picture in western Africa. When we add this to the grim news from the World Health Organization itself of the regular diseases that we have conquered before –– SIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and the kind –– becoming resistant to antibiotics today, we cannot help but worry over our level of sanitariness, and the effectiveness of medicines that once kept our ailments away.
Surely, if our antibiotics become ineffective, the least of infections can lead to certain death. And we will favour prevention over cure, for it may be all we have to fall back upon in these times –– and preventative measures demand cleanliness. Indeed, we may have to accept, for the good of all, American political satirist P.J. O’Rourke’s declaration that cleanliness becomes more important when godliness is unlikely, though the thought may bring some discomfiture.
But it need not be fear, as much as concern, driving us at this time to greater thought of self-preservation and the health security of our neighbours, and that of the world at large, as we face the new health challenges, cum Ebola infection, before us.
We hadn’t quite got a grip on the dengue spike before we were presented with the threatening chikungunya. It is this sharpness of mosquito-borne illnesses and their severity that have our health leaders crying out to the public for sustained hygienic practices –– of the person and in the environment.
The foremost step, of course, for us Barbadians to protect ourselves from all these threatening viruses is to be rid of all possible mosquito-breeding habitats like stagnant water in, around, and near our homes. The changing of water in our decorative vases, bowls and flower pot plates on alternative days will go a long way too – for us and our neighbours. There is, of course, the practicality and wisdom in eradicating all empty containers and old tyres lying around.
It is critical too that the Sanitation Service Authority’s pickup schedules are up to date and on time, and that garbage for its trucks are securely fastened and appropriately placed in drums. Rats are not unknown to be disease-bearing.
And, as important, we must ourselves practise a high standard of personal hygiene –– amidst it regular washing and cleaning of our hands. We must not by our laziness and indifference, or in ignorance, aid and abet the mission of the Aedes aegypti mosquito –– and whatever other creature that would contribute to our unwellness, infirmity, or demise.