How to Move Forward in a World With Zika

The Once and Future Virus

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As this U.S. election cycle should demonstrate—as is true of all election cycles—the problems that besieged society prior to the election still persist, and our concerted efforts are still required should we hope to solve them.

Disease outbreaks are one such problem.

Although I had previously admonished the media for giving too much time to the cousin of dengue, Zika still worries public health officials around the globe, worries that aren’t supported by a substantial amount of causal evidence, and our future in relation to Zika—among other diseases—needs to be discussed. What also needs to be discussed are possible alternatives to the cause of Zika. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to dwell on Zika for too long.

As time advances, our world becomes steadily more connected. Global trade, travel, and commerce can distribute unseen microbial assailants on unsuspecting populations. And the effects can often be fatal. Just are our bodies traverse new landscapes and our palates are given strange new morsels to devour, so, too, are microbes given new areas to explore and new hosts on which to dine.

Fear strikes deep—espeically when the media reports on anything unrelated to celebrities—and education is our best (and perhaps only) means of alleviating both fear and disease. A proper education will inform individuals how infectious diseases are transmitted and the appropriate actions to remain disease-free. Promoting better and more health conscious behaviors must become the primary concern of all humans—policymakers and health educators in particular—if we hope to prevent outbreaks like that of Ebola in West Africa, or the hysterics caused by Zika in South America.

Thankfully, one aspect of this has already been addressed.

The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) was created in 2014 and stands as a multinational, multiorganizational effect to stymie infectious diseases wherever they arise. It was also promising to learn that on November 04, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order which permanently made the GHSA a primary concern of the executive branch of government. This executive order will hopefully ensure that the United States remains perpetually committed to public health generally, and disease outbreak prevention specifically. In the words of a man I often criticize, Tom Frieden:

It establishes ambitious goals with standards that demand accountability and which make the world safer. On-the-ground benefits include better laboratories that provide more reliable and consistent results, supported by a cadre of highly trained “disease detectives” who are the front line of the crucial early warning system to detect outbreaks and stop them before they spread widely.

Although President-elect Trump has not commented on the GHSA (or many public health issues, generally), Trump briefly stated that he would permit a portion of the funding already dedicated to developing a Zika vaccine to continue. This bodes well for federal officials who have started testing a potential vaccine that showed promise in animal testing (let’s not address the ethical implications of such testing at this point). Unfortunately, President-elect Trump’s ambitions to immediately repeal Obamacare portends poorer health outcomes—with a concomitant increase in infectious disease risk—for many low-income Americans.

The above notwithstanding, we require more in terms of health education and health promotion if we are to survive constantly evolving diseases. Individuals need to be empowered to be active participants in changing their lifestyles for the better. Our education systems demand augmentation to equip individuals with the facilities required to sift through jargon and evidence, that they may better make decisions about their health. We need policymakers to pen laws that protect individual health, properly allocate funds, and foster future research of infectious diseases, the kinds of diseases that mutate and become drug-resistant. To move forward in a world with Zika, we need to encourage a public debate that addresses all of these matters and more.


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