Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Experts Outline Trends in Global Health

Global health experts gathered Tuesday evening in Reiss for a panel discussion entitled “21st Century Infectious Disease Challenges,” in which the panelists offered their individual experiences with, and perspectives on, infectious diseases as a threat to global health and security.

The discussion featured four experts who have dedicated much of their careers to fighting and promoting prevention of such infectious diseases as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and most recently, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

Speakers included Thomas P. Gallagher, regional advisor for Europe in the U.S. State Department Office of International Health Affairs; Dr. Melinda Moore, deputy director of the World Bank’s Office of Global Health Affairs; Dr. Gabriel Schmunis, consultant of communicable diseases for the World Health Organization; and Ms. Marni Sommer, pharmaceutical management technical advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The speakers provided impressive presentations, highlighting current rising trends in infectious diseases, the near eradication of the Chagas disease in South America, international boundary crossing infectious diseases as a security issue for U.S. foreign affairs and career opportunities for students within the multi sector field of global health.

Gallagher, an American diplomat and former Peace Corps Officer to Northeast Africa, spoke of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the economic, social and industrial sectors of developing countries and emphasized the importance of political commitment among top leaders in both highly-affected areas and industrialized countries, who must collaborate in order to achieve public health improvement and preventive strategies for disease casualties.

Gallagher specifically emphasized the significant potential for U.S. diplomats to improve the public health of their countries of ambassadorship, highlighting an example of a U.S. diplomat who, while stationed in an Eastern European country, published an op-ed discussing the need for action against the spread of infectious disease which was read by a head of state, who then acted upon it immediately.

Moore, a former epidemiologist in infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advocated the potential of the U.S. involvement in securing global health. Moore outlined the global trend of public health, its multi-sector nature and highlighted key points within the landmark study, The Burden of Disease, which was published by the Harvard School of Public Health, WHO and the Department of Health and Human Services. Moore additionally emphasized current movements such as emergency plan for AIDS relief and the prevention plan of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

“The majority of the global burden of infectious disease lies in Africa, as evident by the study’s research and statistical findings. This concentration of disease is indicated by the various sectors of health and environment, from water sanitation to the stability of the economy to the level of education provided to the population,” Moore said.

Sommer related her experiences regarding quality evaluation of drugs in former Soviet Republics, and explained the blatant discrepancies regarding the difference in the access and quality of health services and pharmaceutical drugs in different regions of the globe.

“It is important that we are aware of the plentiful access to drugs and healthcare services that exists in the United States. We don’t have to worry about our Aspirin being composed of half talcum powder, half medicine, or not being able to obtain vital medicine to common illnesses such as strept throat or influenza,” Sommer said. “These are all factors that significantly affect the decisions made in drug and antibiotic distribution in developing countries, places where the nearest available medication might be a 10 mile walk away or commodity drugs are bought from street vendors.”

The question-and-answer session that followed the panelists’ presentations contained concerns regarding the current SARS epidemic, which U.S. government officials are addressing on a daily basis. While both Moore and Gallagher commented on the extensive efforts of domestic agencies in collaboration with WHO in investigating diseases in Asia, Schmunis emphasized the importance of quarantine.

The current WHO advisory regarding the cancellation of all non-essential travel was historic because it heightened surveillance and nature of the disease under the view of a prominent international organization. The panelists also suggested that current research is underway in domestic institutes such as the National Institutes of Health in search for a vaccine for SARS.

Ultimately, the panel as a whole emphasized the importance of communication and collaboration of global health leaders and heads of state regarding current emerging infectious diseases, responsibilities that will soon lie in the hands of the current generation of university students and rising professionals.

The International Health Students Association sponsored the panel discussion.

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