Today I would like to share some thoughts on the complex relationship between the globalization that we are witnessing and protecting health achievements in the Region, an issue explored in a recent article written with colleagues Jon Andrus, Andrea Vicari, and Gina Tambini and recently published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, as well as in a previous blog’s article “Investing in Health!"
Just as modern modes of transportation and trade, closely linked with globalization, stimulate economic growth, they also facilitate the transmission of diseases and threats to health. These effects are, of course, unintended, but no less real for all that.
Many activities that would appear to be completely innocent and even worthwhile, pose real challenges to health that undermine the improvements that the countries have worked so hard to achieve. This is because communicable disease control varies from country to country and region to region.
Some of these differences may be surprising for the public in our Region. During Soccer's World Cup Championship last year, PAHO called on fans who planned to visit Germany, accompanying the eight teams that represented the Americas in the finals, to take precautions to avoid contracting measles and importing the disease to the Hemisphere; a concern reflected in an article in The Lancet available at Germany scores own goal on measles”. The health authorities in those countries also had to redouble surveillance efforts, for, while indigenous transmission of the measles virus has been eliminated in the Region since November 2002, the disease persists in Europe, and during the championship, a major outbreak was present in Germany and other neighboring countries, where soccer matches were scheduled or visitors would likely go.
Similar efforts were made for the Cricket World Cup, which was held this year in several Caribbean countries, due to the risk of imported cases of polio, measles, and rubella, transmitted by fans from countries outside the Hemisphere where the diseases are still endemic. Thus, Caribbean health authorities issued the Paramaribo Declaration in November 2006, aimed at redoubling prevention and surveillance efforts.
Eradicating polio and indigenous measles transmission have been enormous achievements by the countries of the Region, which, even with their limited resources, have demonstrated the political will and social embrace necessary for giving priority to these goals. All efforts to protect these regional health achievements, preventing the importation of cases and immediately controlling any imported outbreak are worthwhile. On the other hand, this requires a major investment in time and human and financial resources, as well as ongoing coordination, information exchange, commitment by all sectors, and the collaboration of the media.
Globalization poses tremendous challenges for protecting the Region's health achievements, which have been obtained with so much effort and sacrifice. Until the entire planet and its inhabitants have vanquished these diseases, events of a sporting, religious, scientific, artistic, or political nature that spark global interest and lead to a massive influx of people from all over the world will continue to pose a complex challenge that will demand additional efforts by the health authorities and the Pan American Health Organization to protect health and the successes already achieved.
Mirta Roses Periago