Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Next Ebola Zones: Lessons and Predictions

Western doctors in spacesuits are not the answer to future epidemics.
[Source: NBC News] 

The Ebola epidemic, which has ravaged many countries in West Africa, is finally starting to be controlled. However, as the public health measures and practices have been set in place in Ebola-stricken countries, it’s time to think about where else it could strike next.

Save the Children has issued a report warning that at least 28 countries are vulnerable. Asides from cultural practices, one major reason that Ebola infections escalated from isolated outbreaks to a wide scale epidemic is a lack of established healthcare infrastructure. 

One of my favorite quotes is by David Satcher, the 16th US Surgeon General. On the back of my copy of the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual (20th edition), he says, 

“We can learn a lot from the agents of infectious diseases. They teach us the value of eternal vigilance and the price of neglect of our public health infrastucture. They highlight disparities in health and the impact of social determinants of health globally, as we continue to strive for global health equality.” 

So far, Ebola has infected almost 24,000 people and killed 10,000. The virus has been spread to not only neighboring West African countries, but also the US and Europe. 

Save the Children states that a “robust health system could have helped get Ebola under control much sooner, saving thousands of children's lives and billions of dollars.” Using the number of health care workers, government spending on health and mortality rates, Save the Children identified the world’s worst public health systems, which include Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, Guinea, Niger, and Mali. 

The group argues that building more effective public health systems would be cheaper than fighting full-blown epidemics. This would also save the lives of 17,000 children each day, who die of preventable diseases such as pneumonia and malaria. 

It’s essential to frame this epidemic as not only a horrifying tragedy, but also a tragic reality of global health inequality. To prevent this from occurring again, we must solve the root of the problem. 


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