The whole world, including Maldivians, had experienced the devastating effects of Influenza more than once. Hence the word, or the disease, would not be a foreign one.
Influenza had reared its ugly head, numerous times at different locations all over the world in the past, leaving hundreds dead in its wake. One such example is the ‘Spanish Influenza’ in 1918. Recent findings point to that flu having the H1N1 virus. Almost 500 million people were infected, with more than 100 million succumbing to the flu, in that year.
It wasn’t long before the flu reached Maldives. Although no official statistics can be seen, it was rumored among the elderly that a lot of lives were lost to the flu, so much so that ancestors had trouble finding burial spots for lack of space for the accumulating numbers.
According to historical writings in Addu, the atoll’s population diminished by half with the epidemic. It was known as ‘influenza’ even in those early times.
It was said that a number of precautions were taken against influenza in Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddeen’s reign, with Athireege Abdul Majeedh Rannabandeyri Kilegefaanu as his prime minister. Due to the lack of knowledge about the flu, most people turned to sorcery and supplications in hopes of a cure. The situation in the Maldives was closely monitored by the English Governor at Colombo. However, they were in no condition to help anyone else, the influenza had rapidly spread in both England and Sri Lanka.
Even with the recent finding about the H1N1 virus, so many more still remain unanswered. It is perplexing that most of those who lost their lives are youth, in their prime. It is also baffling how the flu spread in the first place, or how it disappears.
Looking at the last 300 years, influenza had shown its face at least once every century. The last of which was seen in 2009, popularly known as ‘Swine Flu’. This was also H1N1, to which 18,000 lives were lost according to statistics.
As before, it reached Maldives but no lives were lost to the disease. Most people died in North and South America, North-East and South Asia, where Maldives lies.
Regarding the many phases of influenza, the 1889 one in Russia and North Asia is noteworthy. Almost two million lives were lost within two years. Other such cases include the Asian Flu in 1957, which also robbed 2 million lives in two years and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968, which also took at least a million lives. The Russian flu in 1977 also seized many lives, though the actual statistics were not publicized by World Health Organization (WHO).
No records are available to point whether the Hong Kong flu, Russian Flu or Asian Flu reached the Maldives. However, with the increase of travels to Maldives at that time, it is likely that the flu would have reached Maldives. The one thing in common every single time, is that the flu spreads for two years and simmers down thereafter.