7 Tiers to Global Pandemic

We live in an interesting time, a time where people have access to vast amounts of information, and technology allowing us to condense and simplify our lives. But what about the things in our lives such as sickness and disease? These things are not getting any more simplistic, in fact, I’d argue that they are getting more complex. While modern day medicine may offer us an edge over these biological armies, are we making ourselves unintentially more succeptible?

To help answer this I took a look at an article written by Meera Senthilingam (a CNN journalist) titled “Seven reasons we’re at more risk than ever of a global pandemic”, as well as draw upon my own medical knowledge, and some information distributed by the CDC. Just a note to any and all readers, being in the medical field I am a stickler for reliable sources and only use these sources to support my writings.

Transmittion of disease is actually quite simple, although the virus itself is oftentimes quite complex. These vectors can include sneezing, coughing, a kiss, contact with bodily fluids, and the list could go on. As Meera writes, “In most cases the closer those people are to you, the greater the risk”. In a small environment, these vectors may seem harmless in the sense that you may just go to your doctor’s office or visit urgent care, but what if someone who comes in contact doesn’t get seen or doesn’t have a vaccination against a form of disease? This is where it can start to get concerning. I’ve included a small graphic to help explain the following.

pandemic

If one person gets a “bug” from someone who, let’s say, sneezes and doesn’t get treated then they sneeze and infect someone else, this pattern can repeat on and on, person to person until it infects regions, then crosses borders, and travels internationally, etc. Thus, creating an epidemic, and in time a pandemic. While the process is much more complex than I’ve stated, the intention is to give an idea.

Public health officials and various scientists belive we are at the tipping point of extensive outbreaks in addition to global pandemic events. In recent years we’ve seen events such as this including: Ebola, avian and swine flus, and most recently…Zika. Since almost all outbreaks are unexpected, it is hard to prepare for them. As Jimmy Whitworth stated, “We’re only as secure in the world as the weakest country.” [1] By “weakest country” I believe Whitworth to be referring to poverty stricken, third-world countries where there is little besides foreign aid and missionary work to assist in responding to global pandemics. With the way that viruses work and infect their hosts, there are little to no boundaries to mind, thus making them harder to control. For example, AIDS. AIDS is a complex retrovirus that, at the genetic level, can undergo reverse transcription – this is a process that is able to convert RNA back into DNA – making it able to produce more “infectious DNA”, in short.

I believe that the way we live can potentially play a role in our risk of disease. I have summarised seven leading explanations to support this theory.

I. Population growth and shift

In an urban environment, people are living in closer proximity to one another, and as more people flock to the cities the cities themselves become more crowded, more garbage, an increase in the liklihood of rodents, sanitation issues, an increased demand of resources, et cetera. The United Nations has reported that the number of “megacities” has tripled within the last 20 years, with a megacity being defined as “a metropolitan area with a total population of more than 10 million people” [2]. With many people commuting to and from cities, the risk of person-to-person contact and transmition between potentially infected persons in an outbreak increases dramatically. 

II. Exploring new environments

With population growth and shift also comes a need for new housing developments. This means that forests or other uninhabited areas must be cleared to allow for construction to take place which in turn means that contact with animals increases, many animals can serve as vectors for disease (i.e., cattle for tuberculosis; mosquitos for west nile, zika, malaraia; birds for avian flu; swine for swine flu). As forests are cut down to make way for housing many small animals are left without a food source and home so they often times will often times insert themselves into a person’s living space.

III. Climate change 

Climate change offers an increased risk for incubating disease as there are often a greater number of heat waves in addition to events involving flooding, or other natural disasters. In the instance of flooding, more waterborne disease are seen after the event due to mosquitos and rats. In other areas where drought is more common than flooding, heat related sickness and malnutrition become the major threat.

Note: I just read a great book written by Craig Childs (journalist & NPR commentator) titled “Apocalyptic Planet” which discusses climate change and the human impact on the changing planet as seen from first-hand accounts and interviews with leading scientists.

IV. Travel

International travel is of growing popularity not only because of the exotic landscapes or immense amounts of history contained within, but also because we all seek an amount of adventure sometimes in areas with little to no human presence. This can open us up to new potentials for infection or even new diseases we haven’t seen before or seen in our lifetimes. Due to the incubation period, a person can effectively be a carrier of an illness without expressing any symptoms and still be able to infect others. An incubation period is defined as the time between initial infection of an illness and the time where symptoms are first expressed. In recent news, the zika outbreak – seen more commonly in warmer, damper environments such as South and Central America as well as the Caribbean, eventuall spread to some southern states in the U.S. – some individuals were contracting this disease from mosquitos while on holiday and coming back to the United States without initially showing symptoms until a few days later, potentially infecting others in that time period.

V. Civil unrest 

In countries where there is civil unrest there is often a shift in focus, leaving the population more vulnerable to outbreak as resources are spent elsewhere. As governments focus their attention to the uprisings and events of violence, their ability to handle a potential outbreak is diminished. If an outbreak were to happen during a period of civil unrest it could severely damage a country as many people are infected leading to an increased number of people seeking medical care on an already weak economic and health infrastructure. War and unrest also leads to a number of wounded individuals which is often associated with an increase in the number of diseased as some are left to die in the streets where infection can set in and spread through animals or insects.

VI. Access to medical factilities 

As stated in the previous section point, access to medical facilites is often very limited during times of crisis or outbreak as many individuals seek medical care. Hospitals and other medical facilities become overrun reducing the number of available doctors and nurses leaving, unfortunately, many uncared for or turned away. It is also, in such instances, when resources become scarese and medical facilites are left to traige (or treat in order of most life-threatening) individuals based on their immediate needs.

VII. Access to information

In this day and age of technology, information can be in our hands in a matter of seconds. Some experts say that this can open us up to new was of spreading fear and panic. While a portion of outbreaks have gone unnoticed by a majority of the population, there are others such as Ebola and Zika that catch the headlines of many news sources. With the rise of social media, many people state their oppinions without factual evidence as well as spreading what has been dubbed “fake news” with the aim of putting fake information online to see how people react to it or spread it. In times of crisis this can be damaging because it can influence how information spreads and incites fear or panic.

 

While many agencies and organisations are designing new programs, increasing awareness, and training more individuals on how to respond and handle situations in the event of a major outbreak, the public can still take steps to help prevent the spread of illness. Individuals can stay informed by utilitsing tools from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Red Cross, and even local public health offices such as a doctors office or health department. Vaccinations are also great ways to help develop immunities to many diseases and cut down on the risk of transmittion (a potential topic for later debate, as there is a large amount of “fake news” ciculating on the harm of vaccinations while neglecting to mention factual evidence).

 

Be sure to check out my article from last week, “Mind the Gap”, which talks about the gap that exists between genders and some issues such as discrimination that women face today. 

“Mind the Gap”

While this may be a familiar phrase to those of you traveling through Victoria Station or elsewhere on the tube, I am referring to a rather different meaning of “Mind the Gap”…gender equality. In scrolling through my news feed to see what is going on in the world, as I do every morning while drinking my breakfast tea or coffee, I came across this rather awakening article titled SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and published by UN-Women and I thought that this would be a great story to share to spread awareness on very real issues that women expereince worldwide.

SDG, refers to the “sustainable development goals” set by the Sustainable Development Summit and consistsof UN Member States. These goals are also refered to as Global Goals, in total there are currently 17 different goals (listed at: Knowledge Platform) each addressing various issues faced worldwide. SDG 5 is set to achieve and recognise women’s equality and rights around the world. As of 2014, 143 countries, of the 193 UN Member States, have guarenteed equality between men and women in their Constitutions. However, further governmental policies need to be enacted to ensure equality for women in countries who have not yet adopted this policy to their constitutions, in many countries women still face discrimination as part of the social norm.

Although steps are being taken to close this gap in gender discrimination, women still, on average, earn 24% less than men on a global level. If you take the average salary in the United States (approximately $44,148/ year[1]) and times that by 24%, you are looking at about a $10,500 difference. Generally when I hear people talk about gender discrimination I hear a common theme, inequality in the workplace. While that is a major issue as I mentioned above, it is not the only one. Violence against women is a topic that should be discussed more than it seems to be, it is a very real issue that occurs within many communities across the globe. Approximately 35% of women, worldwide, have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence, whether from an intimate partner or not. UN Women mentions that it united with prominent women from around the world to point out that physical and sexual violence was absent from Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – these are a set of “time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty…while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability [2]” – and further mentions the importance of embedding awareness “across legal systems, upheld in both laws and legal practices [3]“.

UN Women seeks to advance women’s political involvement and economic empowerment as well as assist women in securing good jobs, and influence public policy. This is aided by raising awareness regarding the need to “recognise, reduce, and redistribute” the burden that is set upon women for unpaid care.

“We promote women’s role and leadership in humanitarian action, including in conflict-prevention and efforts to ensure peace and security. We advocate for ending violence, raise awareness of its causes and consequences and boost efforts to prevent and respond, including ensuring the rights of women living with HIV. We also work to ensure that governments reflect the needs of women and girls in their planning and budgeting, and engage men and boys, urging them to become champions of gender equality, including through our HeForShe initiative.” – UN Women [3]

You can help make a difference by joining the Step It Up for Gender Equality movement, or take action by standing with #HeForShe. For more information on UN Women, you can visit unwomen.org or follow @UN_Women on Twitter.

The original article “SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” can be found here

Welcome… أهلاً و سهلاً, Bienvenue, Willkommen

I’d like to start off by saying this, welcome. As I write this blog, I am sitting in the commons area at University pondering the happenings of the world, revisiting the plethora of news stories I have come across this week, and attempting to recall information on alcohol and ether nomenclature, the process of Gringard reactions, all for an Organic Chemistry exam. Needless to say my mind is in a million places at once, so thank you for bearing with me.

My intention behind this blog is to speak on various topics I come across pertaining to the field of medicine, philanthropy, and global humanitarianism. As I’m sure you could gather, this is how I “cleverly” came up with both the title and subtitle of this blog, “Thought for Thought: writings on global humanitarianism”.

To start off, I might take a few minutes here to introduce myself, it is only fitting that you get an idea of who I am besides the writer of this blog you are now reading. I am an American-born Brit, as I like to say, and I consider myself a Jack of all trades, as displayed by my Twitter profile:

Writer, Traveler, Philanthropist, Musician, Photographer, Actor, Wine Enthusiast, Father, & Medical student. Looking for adventure, opportunity, & memories.

Now I’m sure if I really thought about it I may be able to add more, but Twitter capped me off at 150 characters, so those are my major qualities and most prominent skills (in no particular order). As I have progressed through life, I have realised that my passion(s) all revolve around one key theme…helping others, particularly those less that are less fortunate, by utilising the skills I have developed over the years. My goals while in medical school include getting involved with Doctors Without Borders, and pursuing that dream of mine (since I was a child and first decided I was going to be a doctor some day) after completing medical school. I would love to network with other philanthropists, and doctors pursuing the same dream as I am and one day work with the United Nations to pursue a better world.
As I said above, I intend to post often about happenings in the world pertaining to the field of medicine, humanitarianism, and philanthropy. I hope to post as often as I can, setting aside time daily to write, so I hope to write again soon! Please share these blogs with friends and others and hopefully I’ll be able to reach others with these messages.

Cheers!