November 13, 2016

The CDC is stepping up in the global fight against infectious disease

This post originally appeared in PRI.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, is increasingly focused on health concerns outside the United States as the world becomes more interconnected. And its international mission goes well beyond fighting global infectious diseases like Zika and HIV.

For instance, CDC Director Tom Frieden says drug resistance is making it difficult to administer modern medical care. Treatments including chemotherapy, dialysis and surgery depend on the ability to treat infection.

Another nightmare scenario CDC studies is the creation of dangerous organisms that could be released accidentally, in the case of a research experiment gone wrong, or intentionally, in biological warfare or a terrorist attack.

“These are real risks. Any of these situations could result in millions of deaths,” Frieden says.

The role of climate change in spreading disease is another concern. Researchers believe that when a heatwave hit far northern Russia in August, it caused anthrax bacteria, which may have been dormant in the frozen bodies of humans or reindeer, to be be released in the groundwater, resulting in the death of a 12-year-old boy

All these factors make early detection of infectious outbreaks and rapid response more vital than ever. That requires money, preparation and the reliable sharing of information and coordination across borders. That’s where groups like the World Health Organization come in. But the WHO is having problems that show no signs of easing, says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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