`Ebola is the re­sult of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion'

Down to Earth - - SPECIAL REPORT -

Peter Hotez is the co-founder of the Global Net­work for Ne­glected Trop­i­cal Dis­eases that pro­vides ac­cess to es­sen­tial medicines for mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide. He tells Down To Earth what prompted the rare Ebola dis­ease to spread in epi­demic pro­por­tion and how to con­tain such dis­eases in fu­ture. Edited ex­cerpts Some say de­for­esta­tion and min­ing are trig­ger­ing deadly out­breaks of dis­eases like Ebola. What is your opin­ion? De­for­esta­tion and in­creas­ing con­tact be­tween hu­mans and the jun­gle en­vi­ron­ment have been re­spon­si­ble for the emer­gence of sev­eral dis­eases in the past. Leish­ma­ni­a­sis, a pro­to­zoan in­fec­tion common across South Amer­ica and the US, is one such ex­am­ple. The PLoS Ne­glected Trop­i­cal Dis­eases says that the cur­rent Ebola strain has been trans­mit­ted from fruit bats to hu­mans. This is another ev­i­dence that de­for­esta­tion is re­spon­si­ble for deadly out­breaks of dis­eases. To what ex­tent are the in­ad­e­quate health in­fra­struc­ture and fund­ing re­spon­si­ble for the spread of such dis­eases? Post-con­flict Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are bat­tling with the worst epi­demic of Ebola be­cause they have a se­verely de­pleted health­care sys­tem.

A strength­ened health­care sys­tem would have limited the spread of the dis­ease by isolating con­tacts and through pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate pro­tec­tive gear for doc­tors and nurses treat­ing Ebola-in­fected pa­tients. Un­for­tu­nately, it is dif­fi­cult to en­sure such prac­tices in the af­fected ar­eas. What is the best way to tackle dis­eases like this? Rais­ing aware­ness about the health im­pact of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, in­clud­ing de­for­esta­tion, has an im­por­tant role to play in keep­ing th­ese dis­eases at bay. Strength­en­ing the health­care sys­tems of af­fected coun­tries is a long-term en­deav­our. This will re­quire in­ter­na­tional support. What are the chances of Ebola spread­ing to other parts of the world, es­pe­cially In­dia? The chances are not very high as the virus is not that eas­ily trans­mis­si­ble and does not en­ter through the res­pi­ra­tory route. It trans­mits through di­rect con­tact of bod­ily flu­ids. Be­sides, health­care in­fra­struc­ture in most ur­ban In­dia is su­pe­rior to that in West Africa. But one must re­mem­ber that In­dia has a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of im­pov­er­ished pop­u­la­tion who suf­fer from ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases like in­testi­nal worm and ele­phan­ti­a­sis. More peo­ple die in In­dia daily from malaria, di­ar­rhoea or res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease than all of the peo­ple who have died in the present Ebola epi­demic.

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