The Global Threat of Infectious Diseases
The recent Ebola outbreak brought infectious diseases back into the forefront of the public consciousness. However, in many parts of the world, infectious diseases are a constant threat to communities and cities. A panel of experts discussed the realities and hype around disease during Spotlight Health 2015.
The group began the talk by providing basic definitions concerning disease. Anthony Fauci, director and chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute for Health, separated infectious diseases into three categories, “emerging”, “reemerging”, and “deliberately emerging” disease. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, expanded on these definitions by explaining the shared burden between developed and developing countries to contain and address any threatening disease.
The panel also addressed the effect of medical and technological progress on the treatment of infectious diseases. Fauci expanded on the idea that modern science makes it relatively easy to eliminate infectious disease versus other chronic diseases, “You can decrease the incidence of heart disease and cancer, but you can’t give the knock out punch like you can with infectious disease,” explained Fauci.
With the improvement of technology making it easier to eliminate diseases, the key challenge is making the technology accessible worldwide. Mistry explained how there is a large supply of vaccines but these vaccines are not always reaching those in rural communities. Storn Kabuluzi, director of Preventive Health Services in Malawi, related the problem relative to villages in his country, stressing “We need some means of getting these strategies to communities.”
The lessons learned from the Ebola crisis were also discussed. Fauci called the epidemic a “perfect storm” attributable to infrastructural, geographical, and cultural factors in the West African Region. Larry Brilliant, a researcher instrumental in WHO’s smallpox eradication campaign, said that the Ebola outbreak indicates a problem with global preventative systems, “A pandemic will not be televised and will not occur in a time or place of our choosing, and if we want to prevent it, we have to invest the training, time, and money and infrastructure to combat that.”
Vaccines also made headlines in the last year with the measles outbreak in the US and the backlash against anti-vaccination movements. Brilliant asserted that more public education is needed about vaccines to prevent future conflict, “We have not done enough to understand the moral and cultural objections to vaccines. We should be willing to hear the objections from the public to these vaccines”
When asked to comment on where research should focus in the future, the panelists gave a variety of responses. Fauci discussed research into vaccine “templates” that would make the production of vaccines for rare diseases faster and more efficient in the future. Brilliant suggested deeper research into infectious diseases that are already common, such as influenza.
By Kathleen Tully, Guest Blogger