What did you do last Wednesday evening? Well, I went to a presentation about HIV and vaccine research at my school sponsored by our Global Health Club. Personally, I’ve been interested in infectious diseases and global/public health for some years, and it was interesting to talk with students and researchers who share this interest.
Right now is an interesting time for global health and infectious disease because of – you guessed it – the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. This epidemic has infected 13,268 people and killed 4,960 and has caused infections in countries outside of Africa. This has caused a great panic among citizens of these countries because of the terrifying symptoms that Ebola causes. But it’s important to remember that it is quite challenging for an ordinary person living in the US to contract Ebola and that not all Ebola cases will result in the extreme symptoms that the media focuses on. Here in the US we have access to excellent health care that is supported by strong infrastructure that will prevent an outbreak here.
The Ebola epidemic is devastating for other reasons. While the affected countries try to contain the disease, people with other medical issues that are more common (such as HIV) are being denied care, and thus their health is worsening as well. While the media focuses on Ebola, people with HIV and tuberculosis and malaria are dying, and no one is reporting on them. Without a doubt, Ebola is dangerous and deadly and needs to be contained. But more people die from HIV/AIDS every day than the total number of people who have died from Ebola.
The other day I saw a message from Facebook about a fundraising campaign for Ebola. I agree that this is important. Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea need more protective equipment and medical centers and personnel to help contain the outbreak. I also believe, however, that the world can’t forget about all the other diseases that infect millions of new people each year. These diseases also need funding for research and programs to combat their spread. This Ebola epidemic will eventually come to an end, hopefully in the next few months. But HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and malnutrition will be around for a lot longer, quietly taking the lives of millions. We can’t forget about these areas of global health that require funding just as much as Ebola does.
Here are some interesting books and links if you want to read more about Ebola and other infectious diseases or public health:
Seattle BioMed, an infectious disease research institute in Seattle
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
Invisible Enemies by Jeanette Farrell