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Lessons from an epidemic

Dan Farber, professor of law | October 7, 2014

Ebola’s natural reservoirs are animals, if only because human hosts die to too quickly. Outbreaks tend to occur in locations where changes in landscapes have brought animals and humans into closer contact. Thus, there is considerable speculation about whether ecological factors might be related to the current outbreak. (See this New York Times opinion piece.) At this point, at least, we don’t really know. Still, it’s clear that outbreaks of diseases like Ebola strengthen the case for forest conservation. Which is also, obviously good for the environment. But that’s not what I want to focus on here.

The Ebola outbreak also highlights the importance of the public-health system. In the places where the disease is worst in Africa, the health infrastructure is extraordinarily weak. Obviously that’s not true here. But we’re also seeing the importance of the public-health infrastructure in the U.S., as the Centers for Disease Control works to contain the disease now that a case has reached the U.S.

What we see in both cases is the public good nature of certain aspects of health care — people who aren’t now sick and don’t know if they will ever be at risk are benefited by the public health system.

That being the case, it is unfortunate that the U.S. has been stripping resources from the CDC in recent years. Consider this piece on CDC funding,which lays out the following figures:

2010:  $6.467 billion
2011:   $5.737 billion
2012:  $5.732 billion
2013:  $5.721 billion
2013 (after sequestration): $5.432 billion
2014:   $5.882 billion

As the saying goes, this is pennywise and pound foolish.

We live in an uncertain world, with a variety of threats whose exact magnitude is unknown. Climate change is expected to pose serious public health threats, as discussed in this RFF report. But climate change is only one of the global threats — let’s not forget terrorist use of WMDs, non-climate-related natural disasters, and possible pandemics. It makes sense to make investments that will help provide protection against all of these various threats, and perhaps against some other, currently unforeseen threats

A strong public health system is a multi-threat defense. As Ebola illustrates, we even have a stake in the strength of the public-health systems in other parts of the world, regardless of their remoteness or lack of geopolitical importance. It’s time to take a hard look at the adequacy of the entire public health system and its ability to respond to global health emergencies.

Climate change is only one of the reasons that we can’t afford to shortchange it.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Lessons from an epidemic

  1. Prof. Farber:


    There’s no doubt that Epidemic occurrences have a tendency to arise in places where landscape is modified, especially in Africa. And one ecological factor that can relate to current “outbreak” in Africa is water scarcity. Not only people who live in Africa need water, but animals and vegetation.

    It is estimated that 300 million people out of 800 million people who live in Africa do not have access to water supply. In addition, by the year 2030 the living conditions in Africa will become an increasingly agonizing nation because people who live in Africa will face issues and challenges of water-stress due to climate change.(UNDESA)

    The current lessons we learn from Africa’s epidemic wave are results from the poor living conditions in Africa and as an adherent consequence of a rundown economy. Sending aid to chase mosquitoes away from spreading illnesses to people who leave in Africa alone will not heal Africa’s ailing economy; the spine of the financial system structure who’s been suffering for a long-long time.

    Helping the African people to get on their feet and thrive the health of Africa’s economy on their own it’s the key crucial and central underlying principle and, – thus, it should keep going as the driving aim for developed nations leaders to achieve in order to have the ailing wounded gap of African economy healed.

    Immediate actions need to be underway without any further delays for Africa’s economic expansion improvements. Unless we take a closer look at the source of the cause of the current epidemic outbreaks are that affecting us all, and realize what the origin of problem is that needs to be resolved, and get down to its basis by taking it apart and repair its malfunction motion, we are avoiding to renovate a stern crisis able to create the kind of major setbacks that would have a ripple consequence in the world we all live in.

    Africa’s natural resources are precious for our world and at risk at the present time; decisions by leaders of industrial nations made not to wait for economic growth by itself and assist in Africa’s industrial development, will reverse the declining stagnation of Africa’s economy. In other words, by creating immense expansion in African economy, would also improve health and other important factors such as contributing to physiological condition of the African people. And, the Poor living conditions and economic stagnation that has always been Africa’s worst enemy for a GDP growth will heighten Africa’s economy to other nations GDP levels around the world has grown, and, by achieving this goal, Africa’s economy will reverse its stagnation declines, and that includes Africa’s weak health infrastructure as well.

    This current situation will not improve unless leaders from other nations with industrialized capabilities take drastic steps to build a robust economy driving the African financial system to new heights, as of now it stands as “of the essence” for immediate improvements as a local community’s economy is managed to function by the citizens who live there to have a better life.

    The devastating health problems will continue to emerge as an Epidemics ripple-spread form at a worldwide scale unless the source of the “Epidemic cause” is healed. For Africa’s case it would be Africa’s remaining open-gap ailing economy wound, thus, shifting gears to a prosperous direction for a healthy economy, will create new waves of privileged circumstances for the African people, similar to the populace advantages of developed nations around the world intended by GDPs output purpose, which includes the overseeing areas of its citizens living conditions.

    Keep-up the good work.

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