By Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld and Dr. Reba Goodman
Our world is ever more interconnected, with increasing opportunities for the rapid spread of infections. More than ever, global public health security depends on global cooperation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) was founded in1948 in order to monitor efforts to eradicate smallpox and yellow fever and oversee programs that immunize many of the world’s children against measles, polio, and yellow fever.
Serious medical emergencies have increasingly appeared in recent years. Diseases like HIV, Ebola, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) are a great challenge. They pose a threat through a combination of factors such as genetic mutations, rising resistance to anti-microbial medicines, and weak health systems.
WHO was severely criticized for its handling of the Ebola disease. WHO came on the scene too late. The disease spread for months before being detected because of inadequate surveillance in desperately poor countries.
Microbes know no boundaries
The world needs a strong WHO. It is important to have a strong surveillance program to spot potential health emergencies quickly. Rich countries should be interested in funding such programs because diseases could spread to developed countries. The major cities of London and New York experienced typhoid and cholera during the Industrial Revolution, as it traveled from the slums to the residential areas of the wealthy. After all, microbes have no respect for borders
WHO realized, at the start of the 21st century, that it did not have the resources required to respond to and prevent epidemics around the world. At a meeting in 2000 attended by representatives of many health-related institutions, the decision to form GOARN (Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network) was made to contribute resources, coordination, surveillance, and technical assistance towards combating diseases. It has grown to over 600 partners all over the world and has responded to 120 occurrences in 85 countries. GOARN has responded to major outbreaks of cholera, dengue, encephalitis, influenza, meningitis, and SARS. Partners have also provided experts to assist in addressing the infectious-disease impact of major humanitarian crises, including natural disasters.
Global Fund has saved millions of lives
At the beginning of the new century, a new international organization was created to fight against three of the biggest health threats to human life: tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria. The result was the Global Fund, founded by George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Since 2000, it claims to have saved 32 million lives. Of the three diseases, tuberculosis is the worst. An estimated 10 million plus catch it every year, resulting in 1.6 million deaths.
For malaria, between 2000 and 2015, about 7 million deaths were averted, but malaria is on the rise again. Among the reasons is the increasing resistance to the insecticides fighting the malaria parasite.
For AIDS, the use of anti-retroviral therapy has proven effective. This may change. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of young people is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next decade and young people are the most sexually active.
Coping with disease is a constant struggle, especially in light of genetic mutations and drug resistance. Global health security, like many other things, depends on global cooperation.
Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld and Dr. Reba Goodman are members of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.