Whatever happened to euphoric predictions three decades ago about the world approaching total victory over infectious diseases?
It failed to happen and - more frightening than that - diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis once believed conquered have surged back to the point where half the world’s people now live in fear of them, said a report issued Saturday by the private Worldwatch Institute.
Illness and death from tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever and AIDS are up sharply and “infectious diseases killed 16.5 million in 1993, one-third of all deaths worldwide and slightly more than cancer and heart disease combined,” the global research organization said.
It listed exploding populations amid rampant poverty, inadequate preventive medical care and sanitation, misuse of antibiotics and polluted water and air among causes of the resurgence of long-latent diseases and the appearance of new killers such as toxic shock syndrome, Legionnaire’s disease and AIDS.
Disease control has become “crisis-driven, with … governments reacting to epidemics, not preventing them, paying larger sums for treatment of disease rather than pennies a day for preventive measures,” said the report, “Infecting Ourselves.”
“Infectious diseases take their greatest toll in developing countries, where cases of malaria and tuberculosis are soaring, but even in the United States, infectious disease deaths rose 58 percent between 1980 and 1992,” it said.
“We are on the verge of an epidemic of epidemics … from a deadly mix of human-induced environmental and social changes,” said the report’s author, Anne E. Platt.
Worldwatch recommendations to recapturing the advantage in battling infectious diseases included:
Greater priority for basic public health measures and funding of immunization, sanitation, pollution control, checking of sexually transmitted diseases, and education.
Global monitoring of infectious diseases as urged by the 1995 World Health Assembly.
Implementation of the U.N. Cairo conference program on slowing population growth and the Rio convention on curbing emission of greenhouse gases.