The Global Health Conundrum
I sort of fell into public health back in 2005 after moving to Virginia and looking for a job in anything related to international issues and communications. It’s not something I had ever planned, but here I am almost 10 years later still working in public health. More so on the global side than domestic.
I’m not a scientist or researcher, nor do I do any sort of technical work. In fact, I’ve always worked behind the scenes in a communications-related capacity. So you could say I’ve picked up on a few things here and there (especially when having to translate technical public health speak to regular, everyday English).
Last year – or I should say the year before that – when Ebola blew up (again, not the first time) in Africa, I’d post things on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook (when I used to be on Facebook, but quit that). I think many dismissed it because the disease was far away, as they saw it, and how would it ever affect them?
But the thing people forget time and again – especially in the western world – is that diseases know no borders or boundaries. You’d think we would have learned that by now as a human species since we’ve been hit by plagues and other diseases before.
Memories, however, are short and things are often forgotten (read: the world’s history).
So people ignored it, including (from the perspective of many after Ebola found its way to the western hemisphere) the World Health Organization. They were aware of it, but later highly criticized for not acting or reacting fast enough to the spread of the disease. Until, of course, it found it’s way past border control and into the United States.
I shake my head at this because this is not the first time this has happened. Remember AIDS? If you grew up in the 1980s, then you remember it well. The panic, the finger pointing and blaming the gay community (utterly pathetic), a president (Reagan) who refused to address it until he was forced to (utterly horrible and one of the worst US presidents), and then the spread of the infection followed by many, many deaths.
Do you know how many people are living with HIV or AIDS today? 36.9 million globally. Do you know how many of those are children? 2.6 million. Let that sink in for a second. Or several minutes.
Granted the global community has made immense strides in combating the disease (believe it or not, President GW Bush’s PEPFAR initiative – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – made a huge difference). Medicine has been found to help and people are living with it longer.
But now the world is faced with yet another disease – the Zika virus. Have you heard of it? I’m hoping you have after WHO yesterday released a statement saying that it is “spreading explosively in the Americas.”
It’s a virus that is spread through none other than one of the worst, most annoying insects in the world – the mosquito. Specifically the Aedes species mosquito. Exact same mosquito that spreads dengue and chikungunya. There is still a lot the global health community is trying to learn about it, but one correlation they have noticed is that it is causing severe birth defects in women who are pregnant, and it may be causing symptoms similar to Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Guess what? This virus is not new. It was first identified in the late 1940s in Uganda in none other than a monkey. In the late 1960s, it was isolated in a human in Nigeria. It wasn’t until 2014 that it started finding its way to the western hemisphere. And now people are starting to panic.
Funny how that happens, diseases found in developing countries don’t seem to be an issue (except for scientists and those in the medical/public health sphere) until it hits home or gets eerily close to it.
Zika, Ebola, and so on and so forth are not the deadliest viruses out there. There will be more and they will be even scarier. Hey, the earth continues to find ways to get rid of us. Totally normal.
I personally think it is interesting and immensely sad, however, that those in the west who have the scientific tools and likely funding (except when the GOP keeps stripping them of it *AHEM*) to help find medicines and vaccines for others who are in developing nations don’t necessarily do so until it becomes a global issue, or rather comes crawling through western borders. But why bother until it hits home, right?