Bon Voyage: An increased global exchange of disease looms

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
May 8, 2017

In 2014, when a doctor who had been treating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa brought the disease back to New York City, the United States was completely unprepared. A survey of America’s hospitals at the time showed that only 6 percent were ready to receive an Ebola patient.[1]

Over a year later, things aren’t much better. A recent report found that only 22 states are ready to handle most public health threats — and even fewer are prepared to confront infectious diseases from abroad.[2]

That’s got to change. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, U.S. doctors must be prepared to deal with infectious diseases — and patients — from anywhere and everywhere.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that there will be a total of 7 billion air passengers per year globally by 2034, nearly double that of 2015.[3] Countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, which have rapidly-emerging economies, will see the growth in air passenger numbers.[4] And as people from these and other countries travel more, so too will their diseases.

Given the volume of new travelers, especially those from exotic locales, American doctors need to be prepared to treat foreign illnesses from abroad, as well as diagnose and treat a diverse population of travelers passing through the United States. Medical schools like St. George’s University will be in the vanguard of institutions that train doctors for this new global landscape.

More than 60 percent of infectious diseases are zoonotic[5], which means they are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans. With sympatrically located schools of medicine and veterinary medicine, SGU medical students learn and live with their veterinary counterparts and engage the significant interface of infectious diseases between humans and animals. The One Health One Medicine approach is practiced in the education, research and service activities at SGU.

Medical students also need to be prepared to address global health issues by going to countries actually facing them. Every year, St. George’s sends a group of students to study medicine for several weeks in places like Kenya, Thailand, and other countries facing different healthcare issues. We also partnered with Stanford University to research the long-term health effects of the chikungunya virus.[6] We also have collaborative research agreements with universities in Africa and South America.[7]

St. George’s location in Grenada also provides our medical students with unique opportunities, including rotations at Grenada General Hospital during their time in school. [8] This work exposes students to diverse cases and tropical medicine practices that can’t be replicated at a typical American hospital.

Likewise, medical schools need to prepare physicians to work in the new global healthcare system. We need doctors who understand our interconnected world.

[1] http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/10/24/report-only-6-percent-us-hospitals-feel-prepared-for-ebola-patients.html

[2] http://healthyamericans.org/assets/files/TFAH-2015-OutbreaksRpt-FINAL.pdf

[3] https://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2015-11-26-01.aspx

[4] https://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2015-11-26-01.aspx

[5] https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14830

[6] http://www.sgu.edu/news-events/news-archives15-SGU-Collaborates-with-Stanford-University-and-Windref.html

[7] http://sgu.edu/school-of-arts-and-sciences/index.html

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/education/edlife/second-chance-med-school.html

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