Magazine article The Futurist

Stopping Microbial Killers: Should Governments Treat Infectious Disease as a National-Security Threat?

Magazine article The Futurist

Stopping Microbial Killers: Should Governments Treat Infectious Disease as a National-Security Threat?

Article excerpt

Should governments treat infectious disease as a national-security threat?

Budget cutbacks in public-health programs could increase health risks around the world, warn two University of Maryland researchers.

Tuberculosis killed 3 million people in 1996, second only to lower respiratory disease among infectious causes of death, according to the World Health Organization. But the public-health programs that reduced and nearly controlled TB 30 years ago are now closed or drastically diminished, according to Clark Merrill and Dennis Pirages of the Harrison Program on the Future Global Agenda, sponsored by the University of Maryland at College Park.

The world is increasingly vulnerable to such pandemic microbial disease as TB, malaria, and AIDS, and only government intervention may be able to reverse the trend, Merrill and Pirages write in "Micro-Threats to Future Security," published in Futures Research Quarterly.

"The capacity of the United States to detect and respond to disease threats originating overseas has seriously eroded in recent decades due to budget cuts," Merrill and Pirages say. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flagship of U.S. capacity to respond in case of an epidemic, has cut its staff of epidemiologists."

In addition, they say, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases has cut one-third of its staff since 1980, and two research centers of the National Institutes of Health have closed. The public-health programs of many other countries rely on assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has also cut back programs in response to lower funding levels.

All these cutbacks are due not only to overall budget tightening for deficit reduction, Merrill and Pirages say, but the political infeasibility of funding long-range health research.

"An effective prevention policy would . . . suffer from having invisible benefits," they explain. "What political gratitude can be expected from the millions who did not die from an epidemic that never occurred because a preventive health policy had been enacted? An effective micro-security policy requires a long-term, anticipatory perspective that is almost unprecedented in the U. …

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