New epidemics such as avian flu and Severe Acute Respiratory System have captured media attention in recent years, but more familiar infectious diseases continue to persevere and, in some cases, resurge. Take the case of polio, targeted for eradication by the largest public health initiative in history. When the campaign began in 1988, more than a thousand children a day were infected by the disease. By 2003 the case count had dropped to fewer than 800 a year. But the incidence of polio has been slowly increasing, with over 1,000 cases reported so far this year. More than 200 cases have been reported in India, up from sixty-six last year, and there are concerns the disease may go global after the Indian strain showed up in Nepal, Bangladesh, Angola, Namibia, and Congo (IHT).
Yet the incidence of polio—and, for that matter, bird flu—is relatively low compared to other infectious diseases. Tuberculosis cases, on the rise since the 1980s, are experiencing their fastest growth in Southeast Asia, but a majority of the 15 million people infected live in Sub-Saharan Africa. New drug-resistant forms of the disease are cropping up in South Africa, primarily among AIDS patients, for whom tuberculosis is the leading cause of death (ABC). This Open Society Institute report examines the lethal interaction between tuberculosis and HIV in five developing nations, and calls on governments to coordinate TB/HIV campaigns.
Sub-Saharan Africa has also born the brunt of the malaria epidemic, where over 70 percent of businesses are affected by the disease, reports the World Economic Forum (PDF). The continuing virulence of the disease, which kills more than a million people a year, has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch an eradication campaign that promotes spraying the controversial chemical DDT, banned in the United States since 1972, in homes in developing nations (Baltimore Sun).
Although diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis have been overlooked because they are largely endemic to the developing world, there are signs they are gaining renewed attention from industrialized nations, says Tina Rosenberg in this New York Times editorial. Large organizations spearhead global health campaigns targeting these diseases, as demonstrated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's recent donation of $500 million to The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. And Russia—where tuberculosis cases have doubled to more than 110,000 in the past fifteen years—put infectious diseases on the agenda at the recent G8 Summit in St. Petersburg. Although G8 members touted their commitment to encourage financial support for programs like the Global Fund, they lack consensus about how funds will be raised. But even when financial support exists, misgivings about Western vaccines and medicines can obstruct prevention and treatment. This essay in The American Interest by CFR Senior Fellow Laurie Garrett and CFR Research Associate Scott Rosenstein explains how rumors in Nigeria about the evil effects of vaccines, along with mistrust of the WHO and the U.S. government, resulted in a polio outbreak.