Why you should care
Our ability to fight and forecast deadly disease might be in for a major boost.
By now, the worst Ebola outbreak on record is front-page news. It’s sickened at least 7,400 people and killed 3,439. Now the virus, which causes fever, diarrhea and hemorrhagic bleeding, has spread beyond Africa. Last week, Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola outside of Africa, and several news outlets reported yesterday that a nurse’s assistant in Spain fell ill after treating a missionary and a priest, both of whom later died from the disease. It was the first case of someone contracting Ebola outside of Africa.
But Ebola is only one among many infectious diseases that could escalate into pandemic proportions. These OZY stories that will catch you up on not only Ebola, but meningitis, HIV and other contagions; their historical scars; and efforts to curb, forecast and contain them.
“The shortcomings of humanitarian aid are no secret to experts, and now the Ebola crisis has thrust some of them into the spotlight,” writesOZY contributor Allyn Gaestel. Global humanitarian efforts didn’t rumble to life until nearly nine months after the first Ebola case emerged in the forests of Guinea. But the health system’s problems extend further than the 6,263 sickened by Ebola; malaria killed an estimated 627,000 people in 2012, while tuberculosis and cholera affect millions more. But the Ebola epidemic could be a catalyst. Some possible ways forward: aid organizations getting rid of earmarks from donors with specific priorities and investing in local health structures. Read the story here.
Countries could save countless lives and vastly lower health-care costs if they could prepare for infectious disease outbreaks ahead of time. Now, it may be possible for them to do just that, OZY’s Melissa Pandikareports. Recent research has emerged to develop early warning systems to predict disease outbreaks — using weather forecasts.
NASA scientists, for example, have linked past Ebola outbreaks with a particularly dry period followed by a sudden, heavy wet season. Examining satellite data for this Ebola-triggering weather pattern might allow public health workers to predict future outbreaks. Read the story here.
Sure, the condom may be king when it comes to preventing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy alike — except for one big problem: Men often ready to refuse to wear them. But good news, ladies: A new class of products could double as contraceptives and disease-preventive agents, and be largely in the control of women, according to OZY’s Melissa Pandika. Although it’s early yet, plans are underway for a diaphragm sold together with an HIV-prevention gel and an intravaginal ring that releases both pregnancy-preventing hormones and HIV-blocking drugs — giving women greater power over their own health. Read the story here.
The more than 100,000 African-American soldiers who served in the U.S. Civil War in 1864 fought “an even more daunting enemy than the Confederacy: Disease,” writes OZY’s Sean Braswell. An estimated 29,000 of these soldiers died from pneumonia, malaria, dysentery, smallpox, typhoid fever and more. Although the average soldier lived in appalling camp conditions, black soldiers had it even worse, dying “at a rate two and a half time times higher than their white counterparts,” according to the Library of Congress. Worse still, many white medical officers were unwilling to treat black units. Yet another reminder of the unthinkable hardship black soldiers and communities faced during the Civil War, and a testament to their courage and resilience. Read the storyhere.