A health worker gives a polio vaccination to a baby. A report has advocated, among other things, more resources and immunisation in poor nations. — PHOTO: AP
GENEVA – A RED Cross official has sharply criticised ‘complacency’ towards the impact of communicable diseases on poor countries, contrasting it with responses to flu or heart disease in rich nations.
A report released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Monday warned that the crippling and growing burden of epidemics like dengue fever, polio, or meningitis was not being sufficiently addressed.
‘We do not see interest, we only see vague, uncoordinated interest in high-profile issues such as influenza – which is in itself a great risk, but not the only one,’ said Mr Tammam Aloudat, the federation’s senior officer for health in emergencies.
A(H1N1) flu has ‘killed so far about 150 people, the potential for risk is massive, but what we have today is 14 million people dying mostly unnecessarily from easily preventable diseases that require little resources,’ he told journalists.
Titled ‘The Epidemic Divide’, the Red Cross report said a focus on death rates had helped increase attention and resources to tackle non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks and cancers, now the leading killers worldwide.
But the dominant threat in developing countries remains preventable infectious diseases, and their societies were not only ailing due to the huge mortality rate but also the debilitating impact of illness on their development. Resources to deal with such existing epidemics remained ‘scarce’, the report added.
Out of the limelight, mosquito-borne dengue fever kills 18,000 people a year and sickens nine million people annually, keeping them away from work and amplifying the failings of under-resourced health care, the Red Cross said.
The report said ‘complacency’ towards existing epidemics was ‘a major threat in itself’. It highlighted the resurgence of measles in Europe to underline that Western nations were not immune, especially with easy international travel.
It also advocated more resources, immunisation, community prevention, better access to health services, clean water and sanitation in poor nations.
‘What we are saying is: if we are going to be serious, it’s not influenza alone, it’s not any issue alone, it’s a whole connected subject,’ Mr Aloudat explained. — AFP