Large Disease Outbreaks Might Be New Normal

Video highlights from The Hot Zone

The African Swine Flu is often referred to as the Ebola of the animal world and with its near 100 per cent mortality rate, the latest outbreak across Asia is a major threat to the region’s food security according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Millions of pigs are being slaughtered in the region as the latest outbreak spreads south from China through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The virus which is not dangerous to humans is devastating and according to Dirk Pfeiffer a veterinary epidemiologist at City University of Hong Kong and expert on African swine fever, “This is the biggest animal disease outbreak we’ve ever had on the planet.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Pfeiffer said the latest outbreak makes the foot and mouth disease and BSE outbreaks pale in comparison to the damage that is being done.

“And we have no way to stop it from spreading.”

At the same time as the African Swine Flu reaches epidemic proportions, the latest reports out of the Democratic Republic of Congo warn of a spike in the Ebola virus disease (EVD).

The World Health Organisation says a total of 1945 EVD cases, including 1851 confirmed and 94 probable cases, were reported at the end of last month.

A total of 1302 deaths were reported with a fatality ratio of 67 per cent.

Speaking at the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine’s Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine held in Brisbane last month, Dr Joanne Liu, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières fretted we don’t get our response to large disease outbreaks right.

She suggested most governments only think about outbreaks of disease as part of a security mindset so rather than working to immediately control disease outbreaks, “we are in a situation that nations only respond and mobilise when they feel their nation is at stake.”

Worryingly, this comes at a time when the WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan told reporters in Geneva, large outbreaks of disease might become the new normal.

He said climate change, emerging diseases, exploitation of the rainforest, large and highly mobile populations, weak governments and conflict were making outbreaks more likely to occur and more likely to swell in size once they did.

The key according to the WHO and the UN is for better preparedness but as MSF’s Dr Liu pointed out, most countries don’t worry until the disease is literally on their doorstep and banging at the door.


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