MERS, Ebola, Avian Flu, sadly, these diseases are becoming common place in our vocabulary as recent pandemics outbreaks have shaken the global economic system and challenged traditional notions of international security. In this week’s blog, John Crockett gives you three things to consider about global health.
One of my favorite Sunday morning treats is a three egg omelet covered with fresh basil and some feta cheese. Though this treat has become a bit dearer in the last year. According to Modern Farmer and a number of other sources, the price of eggs has nearly doubled since a year ago. The cause is a significant outbreak of avian flu that has led to the euthanization of more than 30 million egg-laying hens, which has led to estimates that the U.S. will produce about 5.3 percent fewer eggs this year than last. This outbreak, while noteworthy, has occurred in a relatively limited amount of farms due in great part to a system in the U.S. that incentivizes farmers to immediately report disease outbreaks. Though the resulting shortage of eggs has had a widespread and detrimental impact on menu offerings at restaurants and with food companies that rely on eggs as a major part of their product line, it is also something more than a few shoppers have noticed as they check out at their local grocery store. This back page story provides us with some front page considerations as we are all challenged with the impact of a globally connected world, where highly infectious and sometimes deadly diseases impact our personal health and economic security and also that of our communities and nations.
Here are things you should consider when discussing Global Health.
1. One Health: animals and humans are intrinsically linked.
Recognizing that humans, animals, and the environment are intricately linked to one another, the One Health concept demonstrates that, when it comes to global health, all areas of health should be considered and integrated with one another. Zoonotic diseases are those that can be passed directly to humans, such as rabies, Lyme disease, or Malaria. Every 6 out of 10 infectious diseases in humans were initially spread by animals. This requires that when we monitor for potential outbreaks, we must acknowledge that animal health can be powerful predictors of potential human illness. In this respect, it is extremely important that practitioners of human medicine and veterinary science keep their doors and flow of communication open. Despite not being able to enjoy my omelets as much as I’d like, I’m glad that this most recent outbreak of avian flu was caught before it could hit grocery store shelves.
2. Global health events are global economic events.
The ability to protect animals and humans from highly infectious diseases is an economic as well as global health issue. As the egg example illustrates, the health impacts of animal and human diseases are magnified many times by the economic impacts. Most recently, the limited outbreak of the highly infectious MERS virus in the Republic of Korea, contributed to a six year low in the country’s GDP growth. Ebola alone forced a $1.6 billion economic loss in Africa’s afflicted countries. But consider what might happen if a more virulent outbreak struck the world, say another 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak? World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, did. Modelling he has presented suggests a Spanish flu-like outbreak today would kill more than 33 million people in 250 days. And the cost of such a severe outbreak has been estimated at 4.8% of global GDP - or more than $3.6 trillion.
3. Global coordination and cooperation are vital to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks, but there is still much to do.
Because global health is a system with delicate linkages between humans, animals, and economic systems, it comes as no surprise that international collaboration is essential to keeping our world healthy, and the international community led by the World Health Organization and others have developed reporting systems so that disease outbreaks are detected and reported quickly. 196 nations have signed on to implement the International Health Regulations (IHR), the mechanism that should prevent disease outbreaks from growing from isolated events to global ones. Yet of the 196 countries who have signed on, experts estimate that only 20% have the needed capacities to detect and report effectively. The investment needed into the world public health systems to allow for effective prevention, detection and response is massive and will require political will along with billions of dollars. Last year, the international community again came together to try to spur adoption of IHR through another international effort called Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). Like IHR, the GHSA calls on international bodies and national ones to address the threat of global pandemics through an agreed upon framework. The GHSA benefitted from the unfortunate and highly publicized Ebola outbreak, but for it to maintain global attention and attract funding will require more than one extended media cycle and the attention span of political leaders.
So what should you know now? Here’s the run-down:
- When it comes to global health, let’s take an integrated approach. We live in a delicate world with many subtle interactions, and if we are to effectively prevent disease outbreaks, we must endeavor to bring everyone to the table to better understand those interactions and how they apply to global health.
- We should consider the economic costs of global outbreaks. While boarders may be meaningful on a political map, they are not meaningful to the spread of an outbreak, and in our modern, connected world, a health crisis in one country could easily become an economic problem for another.
- The threat of infectious diseases remain and we have a long way to go as an international community. If we are to provide a disease-resistant world for future generations, support should be given to those countries that do not have the capacities to address outbreaks.
All in all, I plan not to let the current Avian flu outbreak ruin my Sunday morning omelet, though I might scale back to two eggs for a while. If you would like to learn more about what CRDF Global is doing to address Global Health Security, please take a look at our blog page, where you can find blogs about the issue.