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U.N. 'parade of horribles'

For those of us who cover the United Nations, there is an almost daily “parade of horribles” with the world’s conflicts. It is hard to listen to sometimes.

On July 2, the “parade” included two non-manmade viruses that we all need to be on the lookout for, the first being the Chikungunya virus. The U.N. said: “The Pan-American Health Organization, known as PAHO, continues to monitor the virus, which is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. The virus, Chikungunya, was found for the first time in the Caribbean in December 2013 and has now spread to many other parts of the region. The disease rarely causes death, but joint pain can last months or even years for some people and complications may occur in children or people over 65 years of age.” The virus was first identified in 1952 in Tanzania. Currently there is no antiviral drug that is specific for Chikungunya.

Fortunately, there is ongoing research, and Dr. Robert Gallo is at the forefront by starting a Chikungunya taskforce. Through his Global Virus Network, they have begun to tackle this horrendous new virus that is now in the U.S. There are confirmed cases of Chikungunya in Tennessee, Florida and even Rhode Island. It is not a pretty virus, and it can bring months and years of pain. It is spread by mosquitoes. They are spending their efforts on “rapid identification of infections, improved treatment options and development of an effective vaccine.” In a press release, the Global Virus Network said:

“There is every expectation that Chikungunya will continue its spread from the Caribbean into Central and South America, Mexico, and eventually the United States,” said Global Virus Network’s Chikungunya Task Force co-chair Dr. Scott Weaver. “As we gear up to address Chikungunya in the Americas, we have much to learn from other countries where the virus has been endemic for many years. And, this new global collaboration will help all countries, particularly as we prepare for vaccine trials.”

Along with the Chickungunya virus is the outbreak of Elbola, and the United Nations convened and emergency task force in Accra, Ghana, this week. They invited health ministers from Africa, as there have been a reported 750 cases and 445 deaths in African countries since March. It is a hemorrhagic fever, and the death rate can dance from 47 percent to 100 percent. It was first noted in Zaire in 1976, but he the largest outbreak has happened this year in West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea).

The World Health Organization identifies some challenges in combating this disease, including negative cultural practices that are resistant to public health intervention together with customary burial practices as well as the movement of people within and across borders and the lack of public health measures and money to contain the virus in affected countries.

Whether the United Nations will do anything is a frequent talk-radio topic. But, if you put international politics aside, part of the United Nations’ job is to keep us safe. This week’s meeting on Ebola is part of the job of the U.N. According to the World Health Organization “The objective of the meeting was to obtain consensus from Member States and partners on the optimal ways to interrupt the ongoing Ebola virus transmission in West Africa in order to reduce the human, social and economic impact of the current and future EVD outbreaks. The meeting focused on getting a clear understanding of current situation and response, including gaps and challenges; developing a comprehensive operational response plan for controlling the outbreak; priority preparedness activities to be implemented by countries at risk; and engagement of national authorities to optimally respond to EVD outbreak.”

What more can we ask? Without some international work, such as the Global Virus Network and the World Health Organization, we are going to face challenges on the public health front we can’t deal with. It scares me and should scare anyone about what could happen. It is time to put our research and resources behind curing these viruses and finding vaccines. It is the only way we are going to survive.

Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].