Rethinking Emerging Infectious Diseases
Identifying infectious diseases has always been a subject of debate within the medical community. The past decade has been the most eventful in the study of infectious diseases. Most of the infectious diseases have been known to mankind like the Hantaan virus which was known in Asia for centuries and Hemorrhagic fevers, including Ebola. The impact of these diseases has increased because of ecological changes such as those due to agricultural or economic development or to anomalies in the climate, human demographic changes and behaviors, vulnerable groups (like the old, sick, the very young and the weak), travel and commerce, technology and industry, microbial adaptation and change and breakdown of public health measures. Thus, it is to be ensured that any assumption with regard to infectious diseases needs to be dynamic, systematic and critical.
Some of the recent “emerging infectious diseases” are AIDS and Brazilian purpuric fever etc. Popularizing this concept of “emerging infectious diseases” has helped develop a sense of emergency amongst the bureaucrats. This has resulted in the bringing about budgetary provisions, publications (print and electronic) to raise awareness on the diseases. Thus, we can say that the health of an individual is best ensured by maintaining or improving the health of the entire community. However, there are certain viruses like dengue, HIV, hepatitis B etc which don’t have any geographical boundaries.
Some practitioners dealing with infectious diseases do believe that there are new emerging infectious diseases but there is another school of thought who disagrees to it. For example, an anthropologist working in Haiti in early 1980s would have quickly questioned the hypothesis that voodoo was somehow related to the occurrence of the new disease known as AIDS. They do feel that there is no necessity of launching campaigns to raise awareness of the “socio-genesis” or “anthro-genesis” of disease emergence. Let us take the example of malaria. When we think of diseases prevalent in tropical regions, the first thing that comes to our mind is malaria which was once upon a time (in early 19th century) a rampant disease found in United States. Reduction in poverty, better housing and drainage facilities etc improved the scenario. But now because of poor living conditions of people living in tropical countries, the disease is to be seen in rampant. Contrary to the living conditions, some practitioners do believe that health conditions are often more tightly linked to local inequalities than to nationality. Studies show that deaths because of communicable diseases in the world’s five richest countries are just 8 per cent as compared to 56 per cent in world’s five poorest countries.
Taking a second look at emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, tuberculosis, HIV – it is in no way unique in demanding contextualization through approaches offered by social sciences. For understanding and eventually controlling emerging infectious diseases, there is a need to carry out a lot of research and this has to be done in an interdisciplinary manner encompassing public health professionals, microbiologists and clinicians.