those organisms as they move from animals into people, it may be possible to prevent deadly new infections of animal origin from entering and racing through human populations. The One Health Initiative, a worldwide movement to forge collaborations among physicians, veterinarians, and other related disciplines, is an example of efforts to improve communication about human and animal diseases.

Public Health in Developing Nations

The gaps in life expectancy between the richest and poorest countries now exceed 40 years—in large measure owing to the toll of infectious diseases. Safe water supplies, sewage treatment and disposal, improved food safety, and vaccination programs are urgently needed in developing nations. A major barrier to achieving these improvements is the underlying weakness of public health systems in resource-poor countries, including a shortage of health care workers, which hinders efforts to immunize, treat, and monitor the status of patients. Poor nations also lack disease surveillance programs and up-to-date laboratories, which are essential in the mission to find, diagnose, and contain infectious diseases.

Distribution of Medicines

Life-saving vaccines and medications are not distributed equitably around the world. More than half of those suffering from HIV/AIDS who need drug treatment are not receiving it. Only 2 percent of people with multidrug-resistant TB receive the right medications. And while children in wealthy countries are routinely immunized with vaccines that protect against childhood pneumonia and diarrhea, children in poor countries are not; for each child who dies from pneumonia in an industrialized country, more than 2,000 children die from the infection in developing countries.

Many factors influence whether poor nations can obtain affordable drugs of good quality. Most drug research and development is not geared toward the needs of people in poor countries because they are not a large market. As a result, a large percentage of the money spent worldwide on health care research is dedicated to problems affecting a small percentage of the world’s population. Social and political challenges to the distribution of medicines are factors as well. Efforts are being made by foundations, pharmaceutical companies, and other organizations to overcome these challenges, providing funding, research, and donations of medications. The tragedy of global infectious disease is not only that so many lives are lost or damaged, it’s that so many of these infections could be prevented or treated effectively with low-cost drugs.

Two health workers give a child polio vaccine during a vaccination campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Two health workers give a child polio vaccine during a vaccination campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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