Infectious diseases are probably old as human civilization. Developing countries suffer mostly from infectious diseases while the developed countries suffer mostly from non-communicable diseases. The countries in developmental transition like Sri Lanka have faced a double burden of diseases, both infections and non-communicable.
In the World Health Organization definition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the following categories can be identified:
1. Diseases of infectious origin whose incidence in humans has increased within the recent past or threatens to increase in the near future.
2. Infections that appear in new geographic areas or increase abruptly.
3. New infectious diseases and those which are re-emerging after a period of quiescence
Over the last 30 years, 30 new pathogenic organisms have emerged. SARS, Avian Influenza, Nipah virus, Chandipura and dengue fever are some of the infections that have emerged in the Asian region in the recent past.Chickungunya epidemic that has been reported from many parts of Sri Lanka during the last few years is another example of a newly emerging infectious disease. Other examples of newly emerging infectious diseases include Hepatitis C, Guanarito virus,
Encephalitozoon hellem, New species of Babesia, Vibrio cholerae O139, Bartonella henselae, Sin nombre virus,
Encephalitozoon cunculi, Sabia virus, HHV-8, HIV/IADS and Multi Drug Resistant TB.
It can be stated that Asia will be the epicenter of future outbreaks of emerging infections, due to the socioeconomic and environmental background and the weak health infrastructure facilities.
Urbanization, population expansion and poverty leading to poor living conditions, poor health infrastructure, environmental degradation and climate change are some of the contributory factors for the emergence of such infections diseases.
The developing countries will suffer most from such emerging infectious disease outbreaks, however, the whole world will eventually have to suffer, especially in the current inter dependent global economic system.
WHO has identified five strategic elements that are needed to combat emerging
diseases. These include:
(1) Epidemic preparedness and rapid response
(2) Public health infrastructure
(3) Risk communication
(4) Research and its utilization
(5) Advocacy for political commitment and partnership building
(6) Epidemic preparedness and rapid response
The risk of use of infectious agents as biological weapons cannot excluded, given the extremely fragile geopolitical relations in the Asian Region. This should be another very valid reason for Asia to prepare for such epidemics.