By Anastasia Moloney-BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Poor countries need more resources and training on the ground to combat infectious diseases that are spreading in new ways and to new places partly due to a changing climate, a U.N. health adviser said.
British trained doctor, David Nabarro, who is in the race to be next head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said infectious diseases, like cholera and Ebola, wreak havoc if they are not identified and managed quickly. [nL8N1BZ335}
“You can’t do this stuff with white coats and kind of control from outside,” Nabarro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in Bogota.
“The first thing with all this business of dealing with outbreaks is to make sure there is capacity in countries to deal with problems early,” he said, adding simulation exercises are crucial in ensuring local communities are better prepared.
Nabarro, a special advisor to the U.N. secretary-general, said climate change is bringing more extreme weather, such as hotter temperatures and more rainfall, which is having an impact on disease and where it spreads.
“Certainly we are seeing malaria coming up into higher ground than it was in certain regions,” he said.
The breeding patterns of the Aedes aegypti mosquito – the mosquito that spreads diseases like malaria, Zika, yellow fever, and dengue fever – appear to be changing.
“The Zika outbreak may well be due to a combination of changes in the distribution of the mosquito and also habitat changes as well because variations in rainfall patterns may be creating new breeding opportunities,” Nabarro said.
Nabarro said more attention must be given to the “cholera emergency” in Haiti, and more recent outbreaks of the water-borne disease unfolding in Somalia, South Sudan and Zambia.
“Cholera is a frightful disease and yet it can be managed very effectively and we’ve got cholera outbreaks in at least four major centres across the world right now,” Nabarro said.
In Somalia, for example, cholera has now spread to two-thirds of the country’s 18 regions, killing more than 300 people since January, WHO says.
In Haiti, where at least 9,000 Haitians have died and more than 800,000 people have been infected since the cholera epidemic began in 2010, mass vaccination campaigns are helping to combat the disease, Nabarro said.
Ensuring access to clean water is also crucial in a country where less than half of the 11 million people have access to drinking water. Yet just a fraction of the funds needed for Haiti’s cholera response have been raised.
“The rest of the world needs to come together behind the Haitians to help them as part of their broader development to get sanitation and water for all by 2030,” Nabarro said.
The Geneva-based WHO faced criticism from global health experts for not reacting fast enough to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people.
If elected as WHO’s new head in May, Nabarro, the U.N.’s special envoy for Ebola during the crisis in 2014-15, faces the task of restoring confidence in the global health body.
He said improving the response to health emergencies requires forging partnerships from grass-roots and faith groups to scientists, to government authorities and businesses.
“It’s a culture change of working through others,” said Nabarro, a child health and nutrition expert.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)