Health News

The Top 6 Health Epidemics in 2016

Malaria, cholera, Zika virus, and measles are just a few of the health epidemics effecting resource-poor countries. The health response by leading world health organizations may offer affordable and efficient vaccinations and treatment. However, unreported cases of illness often trigger the outbreak of epidemics and threaten the world as a whole.

Recently, Doctors Without Borders noted the following diseases as high level epidemic concerns for 2016…


1. Zika, Chikungunya, and MERS

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Chikungunya, and Zika, which has been in the news since early 2016, are on the rise in new countries. With little preventative measures and no treatments in place for Zika virus, identifying epidemic prone areas to put control measures in place is vital.

For Doctors Without Borders, the top priority is to spread health awareness and education in the affected population so at risk areas know how to prevent viruses and also what to do if they become infected. There is also ongoing research and development underway for vaccines and treatments


2. Measles

Doctors Without Borders reportedly treated approximately 33,700 patients for measles during 2014. Vaccinations administered were roughly 1,513,700. While there is no treatment available for this high contagious virus, measles affects populations based on socio-economics. For instance, higher income countries see patients recover within a few weeks from the disease—whereas mortality rates due to related complications and symptoms (i.e., respiratory infection, dehydration, pneumonia, malnourishment, and encephalitis) for patients in developing countries are 20-percent during a measles outbreak.

While measles vaccines are considered safe and cheap, unreported measles cases can quickly turn into an epidemic and a resurgence of the viral disease worldwide. The key to preventing a measles epidemic is identifying outbreak quickly and initiating a fast response.


3. Meningitis

Meningitis—a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection that causes swelling of the spinal cord and brain—has gradually increased since 2013 when Doctors Without Borders reported outbreaks in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and an area known as the “meningitis belt”, which spans the African area from Ethiopia to Senegal.

Unfortunately, vaccines to protect against meningococcal C are both expensive, under production, and not widely available in sufficient enough doses. The key is t role out vaccination campaigns in rapid response for the meningitis season (from December to June).


4. Visceral Leishmaniasis

The parasitic infection, known as visceral leishmaniasis has emerged once again due to a variety of reasons—including climate change, geographical displacement, and the breakdown of essential health services in conflict zones.

Visceral leishmaniasis, also referred to as kala-azar, Dumdum fever, and black fever, is caused by protozoan parasites and is characterized by symptoms of sudden weight loss, irregular fever, nodular rash, anemia, and inflammation of the liver and spleen. According to Doctors Without Borders, fatality rates in developing countries (i.e., Sudan) have spiked to 100-percent within 2 years.


5. Malaria

Doctors Without Borders research indicates that the total number of malaria cases globally is on the decline. However, resistance to insecticides (mosquitoes) and antimalarial drugs, as well as seasonal threats do still indicate a risk for epidemics to occur in areas like Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In 2014, malaria treatment was administered to 2,114,900 patients while seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) was given to 750,000 children under the age of 5-years old. DWR blames outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus on inadequate response to high season peaks, global warming, displacement, and lack of access to timely treatment and drugs in remote, rural areas.

Malaria Outbreak

6. Cholera

In 2014, DWB reported 46,900 individual treatments for cholera. In total, 16 outbreaks of the water-borne gastrointestinal infection were spread across the countries of Haiti, Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, and Niger.

Cholera is typically transmitted via contaminated water and food sources, which is why densely populated areas with poor sanitation are most at risk, as well as displaced populations, and those living in conflict zones. Preparedness is key to cholera prevention. Outbreaks only occur when the response is insufficient and slow. If an outbreak is suspected treatment centers can quickly be set up to support infection control with oral cholera vaccine.