Annie Sparrow, a medical doctor, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Population Health Science and Policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. (October 2019)
Since the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo began in the summer of 2018, there have been more than 3,039 confirmed cases of the disease and more than 2,013 deaths there as of mid-September 2019. It is the worst Ebola outbreak in history after the West African epidemic of 2014–2016. All but a handful of the cases have occurred in eastern Congo, much of which is difficult to reach, with dense forests and poor roads. But this is also the first outbreak in an active conflict zone, and attacks on medical workers have hampered the efforts to contain it, as has distrust among Congolese of the government and of the methods and priorities of international aid agencies. The outbreak’s persistence has brought into sharp relief the shortcomings of the international response to Ebola, and to emerging disease threats more generally.
Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond
by Sonia Shah
Sonia Shah’s Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond should be required reading for anyone working in global health. It should also alert a much wider audience to the ways that many kinds of the microorganisms called pathogens have caused Western pandemics of chronic, or so-called noncommunicable, diseases. Many of our most familiar diseases are set off or directly caused by pathogens.
Recently, the Syrian government has used chlorine directly against civilians as a chemical weapon. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has thus transformed a principal element of public health into a tool of both disease and terror.
In response to Annie Sparrow’s recent article on the public health crisis in Syria and in particular the threat of polio, The New York Review has received the following statement from Save the Children-UK. A reply by Sparrow is posted beneath the statement.—The Editors
The threat of epidemics spreading from Syria to surrounding countries has grown with frightening speed. Among the diseases that have spread most rapidly are measles, hepatitis, and leishmaniasis. Then there is polio, a terrifying disease of early childhood that had long been eradicated in the Middle East. In Syria, it was eliminated in 1995, yet since mid-2013 the country has faced an outbreak of polio that has spread widely across opposition-controlled areas of the north. And now polio, like the jihadists, has spilled across the border to Iraq.
Over the last few weeks, the growing plight of Syria’s civilian population has drawn belated international attention to the country’s failing health system. In late October, in the eastern part of the country, the World Health Organization confirmed an outbreak of polio; and reports of malnutrition and disease in the besieged areas on the outskirts of Damascus and other embattled cities have raised new fears of a spreading public health disaster. But these developments are not simply the unfortunate effects of an increasingly brutal war. They are connected to something far more sinister: a direct assault on the medical system by the Syrian government as a strategy of war.