The Health Section

Endemic infectious diseases: Focusing the world’s attention on neglected killers

When a disease or viral outbreak becomes the focus of attention, it may give other diseases an opportunity to spread. Aetna International believes taking an inclusive approach – including the needs of other areas in the world – and more research and funding can better ensure that more common place infectious diseases continue to receive attention.

In an opinion paper called, “Endemic infectious diseases: Focusing the world’s attention on neglected killers,” experts at Aetna International argue for the need to be more proactive with infectious diseases. The paper is a continuation of the organization’s examination of infectious diseases, and follows on from the first paper “Pandemic: Controlling infectious diseases before they spread.” The papers have been created by Aetna International medical experts Dr. Stella George, senior medical director, Dr. Lori Stetz, senior medical director, and Dr. Mitesh Patel, medical director.

“When the next infectious disease threatens multiple populations, will we be sufficiently prepared to stop it in its tracks?” George said. “And while we’re all focused on doing that, will too many citizens and people working abroad on assignment suffer from chronic infectious diseases for lack of attention and funding?”

Aetna International believes the world needs to be more proactive with infectious diseases and understand the underlying issues causing the diseases to become a crisis. It also believes investing in global development is critical. And experts at Aetna International believe more money for research is needed, as well as a better system for allocating the funding.

“It can be tempting to turn a blind eye on conditions in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa or other corners of the developing world, but doing so would be immoral and ultimately counterproductive,” the authors wrote. “The world is always just one failed state away from a humanitarian crisis that can overwhelm border controls and one mutated virus away from a historic pandemic.”

In 2014, media coverage focused on the Ebola epidemic in Africa, which resulted in 11,325 deaths. In 2015, coverage focused on the Zika virus. The authors of the Aetna International opinion paper argue that the focus on one or two current disease outbreaks leads to attention shifting away from “less ‘trendy’ endemic threats like malaria and tuberculosis” – conditions that are more prevalent.

The paper highlights a study by the Yale University Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analytics, which found people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia did not receive routine health services or visit hospitals because of hospital-acquired Ebola infections.

“As unprecedentedly catastrophic as the Ebola outbreak has been, we estimated that these indirect repercussions of the Ebola outbreak may have been even greater than the deaths directly attributable to Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Libera,” the Yale University study states.

Emergent diseases not only chase patients away from clinics, but the authors of the Aetna International paper also argue it sucks research dollars away from other health issues. The paper notes the United States moving money initially budgeted for the Ebola crisis to address the new Zika virus.

And for disease and viral outbreaks in other countries, Aetna International believes the solutions can be found locally. Working locally can also reveal how and why the diseases are spreading.

The authors believe that the world focuses too often on a specific disease dominating headlines, “meanwhile ignoring other diseases and, more importantly, the underlying issues that allow these diseases to become crises.”