Article excerpt

What Plagues the World

New phenomena are so oblivious to race, nationality, and socioeconomic status as disease. From the bubonic plague, which ravaged Europe in the 14th century, to the current scourge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the chronology of disease has been one marked by devastation. Yet even as the tools to fight infectious and chronic disease have increased exponentially over the centuries, the power of microbes to debilitate whole populations has remained. The emergence of more sophisticated pharmaceuticals, increasingly effective prophylactic measures, and better-educated physicians, however, has not proved an unequivocal cause for celebration. More and more, access to medications has come to depend upon financial clout rather than existing as a universal right, while the fact of increased longevity has created its own host of unanticipated difficulties. This symposium aims to address both what has remained constant about disease over the millennia--its lethal and tragic toll--and what has been altered by today's internat ional realities.

Opening the symposium, Mary E. Wilson of Harvard Medical School addresses the increasingly frightening specter of emerging infectious diseases. Tara O'Toole and Donald A. Henderson, co-directors of the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at Johns Hopkins University, tackle another fear-inspiring facet of disease: the potentially devastating use of microbes as bioweapons. …


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