As the U.S. campaign season wears on, both Republicans and Democrats are pledging to stay tough on Iran. Such promises aren’t new. Last summer, as the Barack Obama administration unveiled its nuclear agreement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured skeptics that the United States would sustain essential sanctions that punish Tehran for its aid to terrorists, regional aggression, and human rights abuses.
In a biological sense, last year’s Ebola epidemic, which struck West Africa, spilled over into the United States and Europe, and has to date led to more than 27,000 infections and more than 11,000 deaths, was a great surprise. Local health and political leaders did not know of the presence of the hemorrhagic fever virus in the 35,000-square-mile Guinea Forest Region, and no human cases had ever been identified in the region prior to the outbreak.
The need to prepare for an influenza pandemic has not yet sunk in, partly because disaster has not yet struck. But that good news could turn into very bad news if it leads to slacking off on necessary preparations today: although no one can predict when or how, a pandemic will occur for sure, and it will have implications far beyond its toll on human health.
Swine flu has already shaken markets. While the scope of the current outbreak remains unknown, experts say a severe pandemic could drive productivity losses, dampen trade, and lower product demand at a time of preexisting economic frailty.
Recent discoveries related to avian flu could help control a possible future pandemic, but even as the global community and individual countries develop plans to combat the virus, experts say more work needs to be done.
The deadly H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus has now crept well into Europe—infecting birds in Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and Denmark—and now also threatens Africa. Experts are at a loss over how to best tackle what could be an imminent global pandemic.
If a publisher had come to me four months ago and asked me to write a book about the Zika crisis in just 30 days, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to say yes, as Donald G. McNeil Jr. did. So many assumptions written in March or April could prove wrong by June or August that the challenge of quickly producing a book on Zika would seem too risky — given that there will also be sleep deprivation, speed writing, high-velocity editing and rewrite ahead.
Learn more about CFR’s mission and its work over the past year in the 2015 Annual Report. The Annual Report spotlights new initiatives, high-profile events, and authoritative scholarship from CFR experts, and includes a message from CFR President Richard N. Haass. Read and download »