Friday, February 15, 2008

Can human behavior be blamed for global pandemic risks?

Guest blog entry: Today's blog entry is authored by Trent Wakenight, MA, consortium coordinator of the Global Nexus of Animal and Human Health Project at Michigan State University.

When it comes to human health and disease, what we do in one part of the world is affecting other places in ways we have yet to appreciate.

AIDS, SARS and avian influenza typify the current "local to global" disease threat confronting human and animal health. Like flu outbreaks before them, each shows how disease can start locally yet have global impact. Unfortunately, blame is shared by civil society’s own progress.

A global human population set to double by 2050 and a rise in urban populations contribute, as do advances in transportation. Travelers can move from African jungles to New York City within eight hours, enabling disease spread.

Disease transfer between species is also a concern. About 75 percent of all human diseases are from animals. Avian influenza H5N1, transmitted easily between birds, could be next. Some birds get sick, while others don't and become carriers. The fear is that the virus could mutate into a human problem, too.

Our world is increasingly interdependent. Pressure placed by more developed and wealthy countries such as the United States, China and India upon poorer developing nations where meat is grown cheaply is one example. Livestock operations in developing nations will grow by 50 percent by 2020 to meet demand. This is occurring in conditions where disease controls may not exist and where the human population is seeing its greatest growth. The result may be a feeding of this convergence of animals, humans and microbes that has pushed us to the verge of the next global outbreak.

This complex challenge in a complex environment requires local and global solutions. During a recent conversation I had with David Nabarro, the U.N. system flu coordinator, he said he believes that a diverse collection of partners must be involved.

"We can't just rely on government," said Nabarro. "We need others to be involved as well. Private agencies, business, voluntary services, those who work at the community level and community groups who are active in civil society and how people go about their lives."

The Global Nexus of Animal and Human Health project at Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota, is working to address global disease drivers and solutions and seeking to create open platforms for dialogue among all of the communities of practice affected by the issue.


healthtalk said...

Yes, humans definitely are at blame for increasing disease risks. Look what happened with mad cow: Instead of feeding cows grass, they were fed ground up animal brains and bomes. Was anyone really shocked when their brains then turned into sponge? And when the brains of people who ate those cows did too? Health is too often overlooked for greed and profits, and we all reap the results.

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