August 5, 2014

The ‘Global Village’ and spread of infectious diseases

Tue, Aug 05, 2014

Even though the latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has taken place halfway around the world, Vincentians, like people in most other parts of the world, are concerned about its spread.

It is often said that we live in a global village. Usually, that term is used in a positive sense to express how improved transportation networks and communication have brought people of the world closer together. One downside, however, of being a citizen of this global village, is how vulnerable it makes communities, especially developing nations such as ours, to the spread of disease.{{more}}

For most of human history, regional and continental populations have been relatively isolated from each other. Initially, new infectious diseases could spread only as fast and as far as people could walk or paddle their canoes, ride their horses, or sail their ships. Today, someone can travel from one end of the planet to the other in less time than the incubation period of many of the infectious diseases which plague man today.

The first cases of the Chikungunya were identified in St Vincent and the Grenadines only a few weeks ago. Several hundred persons here, especially in the Grenadines, have been stricken with the disease, with more cases being reported every day. Thankfully, Chikungunya is not usually fatal, but those afflicted report a great deal of pain, suffering and loss of productivity.

And Chikungunya is just another one of what seems to be a never ending list of new infectious diseases with which we must come to terms. The arrival of Chikungunya here followed our increased awareness of several other new infectious diseases including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian influenza virus, and the H1N1 virus (Swine influenza), which have received much attention, due to their rapid spread around the world.

While we are still grappling with what we need to do to keep Chikungunya under control, we hear of the latest outbreak of Ebola and the fact that an infected man travelled on an international airliner and died in the city of Lagos, Nigeria.

Officials of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment assured us in an interview yesterday (see pages 1 and 2) that while our present risk of Ebola is low, they have stepped up their surveillance and have put plans in place to deal with any occurrence here.

We, as citizens, also have to play our part and educate ourselves as much as possible about all of these infectious diseases–not just the Ebola virus, but also Chikungunya, H1N1, dengue and the others – how they are spread, the symptoms of the diseases, and what we can do to minimize our risk.