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Infectious Diseases Burden Developing Countries

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns the growing burden of epidemics is undermining the social and economic development of poorer countries. A new Red Cross report finds the richer countries pay scant attention to the heavy toll infectious diseases take in the poorer nations where they mainly exist.

Non-communicable diseases, such as cancers and heart attacks, are the leading causes of death worldwide. But, the International Red Cross Federation says that does not mean that the war against infectious diseases has been won, as many people in rich countries believe.

On the contrary, Senior Red Cross Officer for health in emergencies, Tammam Aloudat, says the world may be further away from overcoming the scourge of infectious diseases than ever before.

"We lose every year, close to 14 million people to infectious disease," said Tammam Aloudat. "This year, more people were infected with meningitis than ever. More people were affected by polio that we thought we are a step away from eradicating. Well, we are not. While it mostly happens far away from the rich countries, while it mostly affects poor people, it will not be the case. We, today, are affected by more number of infectious diseases than ever in history."

The report notes the social and economic consequences of epidemics in developing countries are devastating and need to be better understood. It says people hit by epidemics usually die or, in the case of polio, get disabled in their most productive years when they are young.

The report also warns developed countries should not become complacent about epidemics that are occurring in developing countries. For example, it notes the re-emergence of killer diseases such as measles and tuberculosis in Western Europe shows wealthy nations are not immune to the diseases of the poor.

Dr. Aloudat says many of the medicines and vaccines used to combat infectious diseases are failing. They are becoming resistant and are not reaching the people who need them.

"If we look beyond the numbers that we are de-sensitized to and the images, the brief images on TV that we are painfully used to and think those infectious diseases, those epidemics that are affecting people every day around us are not going to be contained forever in poor countries or in communities that are far away from here, they will very likely come here and they will affect all of us," added Dr. Aloudat. "And, it will be a very unfortunate thing for us to wait until then."

The report says there is no easy formula to fight epidemics. But, it notes preparing for a health emergency is far more cost-effective in terms of saving lives and treating the illness, than picking up the pieces after the epidemic has struck.

The Red Cross says many infectious diseases that kill people are easily preventable and require few resources.