PLOS Blogs

Dr. Peter Hotez says NTDs are a thread to global security. 

"In a landmark White House summit last week President Barack Obama addressed health ministers from more than 40 countries, in addition to leaders from several international health organizations.  His welcomed message was that highly lethal and widespread epidemics such as the West African Ebola outbreak are more than public health threats.  Instead these devastating infections when they affect or threaten large populations also have dire economic consequences and themselves are highly destabilizing leading to further breakdowns in already fragile systems and infrastructures.  In this sense Ebola is a direct and serious threat to national and global securities.
This is not the first time we have seen epidemics threaten global security. We saw such connections during the SARS pandemic in 2002-03, again with the emergence of avian influenza, and especially during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009.  These outbreaks together with concerns about bioterrorism were underlying reasons why BARDA (The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) was established within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
It is important to point out, however, that infectious diseases are threats to global security for reasons that go beyond perceived or actual high profile and lethal epidemics such as Ebola, SARS, and flu.  Previously in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases together with former DHHS Secretary and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson I highlighted the widespread and destabilizing effects of the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).  A key point is that NTDs such as hookworm, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, and trachoma rank among the most common afflictions of the world’s poor and almost every person living in extreme poverty has one or more of these conditions.  As a result we found that these and other NTDs reduce agricultural productivity even to the point where agricultural lands are abandoned.  Thus NTDs promote food insecurity.  Moreover, certain NTDs such as hookworm damage children by adversely affecting their educational performance leading to sharp drops in future wage earning, while promoting ignorance.  They have a huge impact on the health of girls and women and greatly increase bad pregnancy outcomes for both mother and child."

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