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HR Backgrounder
Communicable Diseases    
 

According to the World Health Organization, infectious disease accounts for 26% of total global mortality, or 14.7 million deaths annually. AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria account for 39% of the deaths attributed to infectious disease.  A disturbing medical trend seen in recent years has been a resurgence of the infectious disease threat as the diseases mutate and evolve to resist drugs and adapt to new hosts.  As diseases evolve to resist more the more cost-effective drugs normally used to treat them, the cost of treatment skyrockets.  This makes it increasingly difficult for those people with few resources to receive effective treatment.  In developing countries, infectious disease is responsible for almost half of the total mortality.  A large portion of the deaths due to infectious disease could have been prevented with existing medications, and still more could have been prevented with access to adequate food and clean drinking water. 

Access to medication, food, and clean water is largely dependent on economic status in most parts of the world.  Those suffering from poverty are at a great disadvantage in obtaining these things.  Increasing costs to treat drug-resistant strains of diseases makes it even more difficult for those with low incomes to receive effective medication.  Populations living in poverty often lack the education and instruction to understand how the diseases are spread and what can be done to prevent transmission.  When they do contract these diseases, those who are poverty-stricken are less-likely able to seek and receive effective treatment, both because of lack of availability of treatment, or lack of resources through which to obtain it. 

Infectious diseases take an especially large toll on poor people in largely rural parts of low-income nations.  In addition to suffering from diseases with high mortality rates like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, these people often suffer from other diseases that cause great suffering and even lasting disability.  These diseases are often ones that people in more affluent nations face little threat from.  One such disease is leprosy.  These people may not be able to afford, or may not have access to treatment for their conditions.  Infectious disease among these populations can result in a huge loss of productivity.  The lost productivity is often both industrial and agricultural.  Often, infectious disease changes cultural norms, and even sometimes the way in which land is put to use.  Loss of agricultural productivity may even jeopardize a nation's food supply.  Social and economic stability are also lost when infectious disease runs rampant in populations.  The end result of all of these factors can be the undermining of political stability in a nation.  

Infectious disease creates a cycle from which it is hard to escape.  These diseases result in loss of work and higher rates of school drop-out.  The combination of economic losses and failure in education ensure that future generations of these populations remain in poverty.  Those who are disabled by disease in their youth are often unable to receive treatment and are forced to remain this way their entire lives.  The people who suffer from these diseases are often stigmatized, and/or ostracized in their societies.   

One infectious disease that is creating huge problems worldwide is HIV/AIDS.  It is a human rights issue of increasing importance.  This issue is largely due to the fact that women's right to safe sexuality and sexual autonomy is widely disregarded.  Women are at greater risk for HIV/AIDS as a result of coerced sex and cultural practices in some parts of the world. Infection of a large portion of the population with a disease like AIDS results in a huge drop in productivity.  For example, a nation in which 20% of the population is infected with AIDS will see a 1% decline per year in their gross domestic product. 

Infectious diseases are moving across borders into new populations.  Over half of tuberculosis cases in some wealthy countries were found in foreign-born residents.  The issue of disease will not go away on its own.  After almost 40 years of decline, deaths from tuberculosis are once again rising.  As old threats re-emerge, new ones, such as SARS and West Nile Virus, appear as well.  A number of diseases, like HIV/AIDS, have no vaccination and no known cure. The only way to prevent the spread of such diseases is through knowledge and proper precautions.  Other diseases have effective vaccinations/medications, they are just not available to all people, most often the poor.  Precautions must be taken though to try to prevent further drug-resistant strains of diseases from evolving and spreading.  Medical attention to those who are the least able to seek and receive it on their own is necessary to prevent social, economic, and political instability in nations ravaged by communicable diseases.  All nations have a stake in this, as world travel becomes increasingly common and diseases are frequently transmitted across borders. The issue of communicable disease is a global one from which no nation is exempt.   

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