Disease and Globalization: On a Fast Track

By Ghadar, Fariborz; Hardy, Beth | Industrial Management, January/February 2006 | Go to article overview
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Disease and Globalization: On a Fast Track

Ghadar, Fariborz, Hardy, Beth, Industrial Management


While epidemics have been around for as long as humanity's existence, their spread was once held in check by geography. However, the proliferation of high-speed global transport of people and livestock has opened the floodgates for disease transmission. Private business must find its role in responding 19 disease outbreaks.

12 TRENDS changing the world

A five-year research project reveals that the future of commerce worldwide will be greatly influenced by a dozen "global tectonics" that will affect business leaders across all industries:

1. Biotechnology

2. Nanotechnology

3. Information technology

4. Population

5. Urbanization

6. Disease and globalization

7. Resource management

8. Environmental degradation

9. Knowledge dissemination

10. Economic integration

11. Conflict

12 Governance

In this era of globalization, infectious disease thrives along with cross-border integration - including the movement of goods, labor, and transportation. Health and security have become key areas of both business and government observation. The international community already contends with viruses such as HIY malaria, SARS, and tuberculosis. As the world becomes more integrated, companies, governments, and individuals are faced with the challenges and opportunities that dis ease presents.

Epidemics take their tolls on societies in a variety of ways: loss of life, political instability, and economic stagnation accompany epidemics sweeping the world today. In the face of these health crises, governments and corporations must respond quickly and effectively or risk losing citizens, workers, and consumers.

How epidemics begin and spread

Epidemics and the diseases that cause them are not new. Diseases have decimated the populations of every continent. In the 130Os, the bubonic plague, or Black Death as it was commonly known, swept through Europe, killing up to 30 percent of the population. Arriving in 1346, most likely due to new trade patterns and army movements, the plague moved quickly through Europe over the next four years.

The plague was a factor, at least in part, for altering the makeup of society. The massive loss of workers caused the demise of the feudal system, and the Renaissance was born.

This story of epidemic and economic recovery is repeated over and over in the history of humanity. Business leaders must recognize the awesome impact disease can have on a stable world. The ruling class of the Middle Ages did not take into account the possibility of a disease drastically altering the fabric of their society. Today's business leaders can learn from that mistake. Europeans did not track the movement of the plague; they were unaware that trade was facilitating the development of the disease.

Now, technology enables epidemiologists to study the movement of disease almost to the person. More is known about transmission modes, incubation periods, and the contagious nature of diseases. The World Health Organization and many governments have come together to monitor, track, and prevent epidemics before they reach the level of the Black Death.

However, with new technology comes a new challenge. We must contend with the speed at which people and goods move around the planet. Planes, boats, high-speed trains, trucks, cars, and every other type of transportation can move anything anywhere at breakneck speed. This means that diseases no longer take years to reach new geographic areas. Pathogens can arrive within hours. Travelers, business people, tourists, diplomats, and reporters become innocent transporters of deadly diseases.

As populations continue to interconnect, the likelihood of epidemics and pandemics of infectious disease increases. Compared to the plague, which took four years to spread, SARS originated in China and spread rapidly to 30 countries within weeks, with relatively severe outbreaks in Toronto, Taiwan, and Beijing.

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