Global Transportation and the Spread of Disease

By Calum Macpherson, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Director of Research at St. George's University
March 8, 2017

We live at a time in which people and goods can move across borders – and even across continents — with unprecedented speed.

Advances in transportation have also made it easier and faster for infectious diseases to spread quickly. Since 1980, the number of infectious-disease outbreaks across the globe has nearly quadrupled.[1] Recent outbreaks such as the Ebola and the Zika virus epidemics quickly gave rise to global public health emergencies.

Combatting the spread of deadly diseases will require a full-scale effort that involves everybody from political leaders to medical professionals and private citizens. In particular, the escalating risk of infectious disease calls for robust prevention and response systems and the commitment of the international community.

At the international level, groups like the World Health Organization (WHO) must be equipped with the resources to address outbreaks as they happen. Ongoing reforms at the WHO aim at strengthening the global health emergency workforce and raising emergency contingency funds for responding to the spread of disease around the world.[2]

In the case of individuals, it’s critical to take necessary precautions when traveling. The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control both offer detailed guidance for how travelers can avoid acquiring or spreading diseases depending on the nations they are visiting.[3]

Medical schools must also their part to combat the spread of infectious disease. Doctors must be prepared to treat foreign illnesses from abroad, as well as diagnose and treat a diverse population of travelers passing through the countries where they work.

Here at St. George’s University (SGU), we encourage our medical and veterinary students to be prepared to address global health issues by traveling to other parts of the world which have their own unique health issues. Every year, SGU provides students opportunities to pursue their studies in countries such as Kenya, Thailand, India, Sweden, the Czech Republic and other countries facing acute health challenges.[4]

SGU is also making important progress in understanding the nature of the world’s most dangerous infectious diseases. The Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) – an independent research Institute located at SGU’s True Blue canvas — recently received $380,000 in grants from the National Institutes for Health to study Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses in Grenada.[5] Last summer SGU participated in a promising study of mosquito-borne illnesses. That research could lead to a powerful new system for monitoring the spread of diseases through mosquitoes and preventing future outbreaks.[6]

When it comes to infectious diseases, we must all think of ourselves as part one great international community. Preventing deadly outbreaks is an effort that “takes a village” — and in our increasingly hyper connected world, that includes all of us.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4223919/

[2] https://www.milbank.org/quarterly/articles/the-future-of-the-world-health-organization-lessons-learned-from-ebola/

[3] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001925.htm

[4] http://www.sgu.edu/school-of-medicine/international-partners.html

[5] http://www.sgu.edu/news-events/2016/WINDREF-Receives-380000-in-Grants-to-Study-Vector-Borne-Diseases.html

[6] http://www.sgu.edu/news-events/news-archives15-St-Georges-University-Collaborates-with-Researchers-to-Tackle-Vector-Bone-Infections.html

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