Challenges that terrorism poses
to public health
VICTOR W. SIDEL
Terrorism adversely affects health in many ways. Public health professionals can do much both to minimize and to prevent the health consequences of terrorist acts and threats.
In Chinese, the word for “crisis” has two symbols: one stands for danger; the other, for opportunity. The “crisis” of terrorism presents not only dangers, but also opportunities in public health for strengthening systems and protecting people.
Terrorism can cause injury, illness, and death; create fear, anxiety, and other psychological reactions; destroy the physical infrastructure and social fabric of communities; and cause profound, adverse economic and political impacts on individuals, communities, nations, and our global society. Some responses to terrorism, however, can be harmful as well. Vengeful responses to terrorist acts or threats may hurt innocent people (see Box 3–2 in Chapter 3). Attempts to locate, interrogate, and punish suspected terrorists may threaten civil liberties domestically and international justice abroad (Chapters 17 and 19). And the U. S. government's diversion of resources from essential public health programs for homeland defense or the “war on terrorism” may lead to a worsening of health problems in the United States and to a reduction in U. S. health-program assistance to less-developed countries.