Infectious disease emergence and global change: thinking systemically in a shrinking world

Infectious Diseases of Poverty
2012, 1
[Accessed 27 October 2012]
Aims & scope
Infectious Diseases of Poverty is an open access, peer-reviewed journal publishing topic areas and methods that address essential public health questions relating to infectious diseases of poverty. These include various aspects of the biology of pathogens and vectors, diagnosis and detection, treatment and case management, epidemiology and modeling, zoonotic hosts and animal reservoirs, control strategies and implementation, new technologies and application. Transdisciplinary or multisectoral effects on health systems, ecohealth, environmental management, and innovative technology are also considered.

IDP aims to identify and assess research and information gaps that hinder progress towards new interventions for a particular public health problem in the developing world. Moreover, to provide a platform for discussion of the issues raised, in order to advance research and evidence building for improved public health interventions in poor settings.

Research Article  
Infectious disease emergence and global change: thinking systemically in a shrinking world
Colin D Butler Infectious Diseases of Poverty 2012, 1:5 (25 October 2012)

Abstract [Open Access]
Concern intensifying that emerging infectious diseases and global environmental changes that could generate major future human pandemics.

A focused literature review was undertaken, partly informed by a forthcoming report on environment, agriculture and infectious diseases of poverty, facilitated by the Special Programme for Tropical Diseases.

More than ten categories of infectious disease emergence exist, but none formally analyse past, current or future burden of disease. Other evidence suggests that the dominant public health concern focuses on two informal groupings. Most important is the perceived threat of newly recognised infections, especially viruses that arise or are newly discovered in developing countries that originate in species exotic to developed countries, such as non-human primates, bats and rodents. These pathogens may be transmitted by insects or bats, or via direct human contact with bushmeat. The second group is new strains of influenza arising from intensively farmed chickens or pigs, or emerging from Asian “wet markets” where several bird species have close contact. Both forms appear justified because of two great pandemics: HIV/AIDS (which appears to have originated from bushmeat hunting in Africa before emerging globally) and Spanish influenza, which killed up to 2.5% of the human population around the end of World War I. Insufficiently appreciated is the contribution of the milieu which appeared to facilitate the high disease burden in these pandemics. Additionally, excess anxiety over emerging infectious diseases diverts attention from issues of greater public health importance, especially: (i) existing (including neglected) infectious diseases and (ii) the changing milieu that is eroding the determinants of immunity and public health, caused by adverse global environmental changes, including climate change and other components of stressed life and civilisation-supporting systems.

The focus on novel pathogens and minor forms of anti-microbial resistance in emerging disease literature is unjustified by their burden of disease, actual and potential, and diverts attention from far more important health problems and determinants. There is insufficient understanding of systemic factors that promote pandemics. Adverse global change could generate circumstances conducive to future pandemics with a high burden of disease, arising via anti-microbial and insecticidal resistance, under-nutrition, conflict, and public health breakdown.