Monday, February 11, 2013

Infectious diseases as powerful as politics and economics in driving development.

Tropical economies are usually poor and agrarian; temperate ones wealthy and industrialized. Tropical diseases are usually vector born and parasitic diseases (VBPD) like acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), tuberculosis and malaria while temperate diseases which are usually due to lifestyle changes such as smoking, sedentary living and eating foods rich in cholesterol, sugars and salts are mostly cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory problems. Whatever form the disease takes, they steal human resources and should be given as much importance in national planning as financial crimes and corruption in high places.

Away from the glitterati, even beauty can be found in poverty. Flickr.com/meanest indian
A new study by Dr Matthew Bonds, an economist at Harvard Medical School, believes that money spent in combating diseases is money well spent because reducing the burden of diseases stimulates economic growth, and that the burden of such diseases drops when biodiversity rises. Although the study is not new, what is novel is that the burden of diseases is somewhat skewed with the equator serving as an iron wall.

Biological processes as important as studying economics and politics of development.

When disease burden on the populace of a nation becomes high, the costs start to escalate. Some of the costs are the loss of productive work, satisfaction or utility drops thereby increasing the costs of living and there is the risk of premature death leading to the loss of important human resources at the prime of life. If you translate all this into economic terms, it translates into a big amount of human resources lost due to diseases. This data also translates into low growth rates for countries burdened by diseases. Most of these countries are in the tropics and are usually incident for infectious and parasitic diseases.

When governments begin to understand these facts, they will begin to realize that investing heavily in preventive health care systems are worth the money, as much as investing in reining financial crimes and corruption in government. It has been found that the economy will take off into sustained growth when preventive health interventions are well carried out and infectious diseases are put under control.

As cited earlier, diseases that take a heavy toll on national income are usually found in the tropics. They exert such a big burden on these nations that they have been termed “diseases of the poor.” They are mostly vector-borne and cannot always survive outside the tropics. A 2004 study by the International Policy network states that most of the disease burden in these poor or low-income countries are due to poverty, such as poor nutrition, indoor air pollution and lack of access to proper sanitation and health education. To stimulate economic growth, governments in these countries have to invest heavily in prevention and make medicines available. When authorities count the costs of not taking the necessary action to make accessibility to drugs and preventive techniques for these diseases possible, then having the political will and international support to fight poverty through monetary aid and technical assistance might not be yieldingthe desired results.

Disease burden inversely related to biodiversity.

Dr. Mathew Bonds, cited earlier, also found that as the burden of infectious diseases for poor countries rises, ecological biodiversity has been recorded to be on the decline. No matter where a country might fall from the equator, whether in the tropics or temperate countries, these is no good news, especially when there is a global fight against climate change and polluting effects of human action on the global ecosystem. Wealthy and industrialized countries who have low incidence of infectious and vector-borne diseases might have increased burden due to biodiversity concerns which are exacerbated by abnormal changes in ecological factors like temperature, rainfall and soil quality.

Biodiversity creates disease resistance, ensures that natural predators of these disease organisms exist and that they get to compete for survival against other organisms. When these factors are taken away, vector-borne and parasitic diseases might not make poor and low-income countries south of the tropics their sole targets.

This is where the study is much interesting. It is not that many nations are not fighting back. Enormous resources are poured into research and development against these diseases by industrialized countries and pharmaceutical companies. What is most poignant is that many nations might look lame and fall into the trap of low-income countries if the global problems of pollution and climate change are not addressed. Biodiversity depends on these factors. When huge species and habitats disappear, no amount of research can bring them back.

Where the might exists, does the political will exist? Will big business allowS itself to be dictated to by nature? How much time does planet earth have before industrialized nations fall into these biodiversity and infectious diseases trap? All these are open-ended questions. What is important is for governments and policy makers to place biological processes into the same category as politics and economics before the fight can even begin.


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