As infrastructure deteriorates throughout the region, deadly contagions are a new cause for concern, writes scientist.
Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, is Dean, National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, President, Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, and Fellow in Disease and Poverty, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
Recent conflicts in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East may have sufficiently destabilised national and international public health control measures to a point where several tropical diseases have either emerged and are sickening large populations in the region.
The most dramatic example is currently happening in Syria, where cutaneous leishmaniasis, a disfiguring parasitic skin disease transmitted by sandflies and also known as “Aleppo Evil”, is now affecting tens of thousands of innocent civilians both within the country and among refugees fleeing across the border to Lebanon or Turkey. But this disease is also flourishing in Afghanistan, Algeria, and Iraq where breakdowns in public health have allowed sandflies to breed and transmit disease.
Several mosquito-transmitted virus infections have also become important public health problems in the region. According to recent estimates 6 million cases of dengue fever occurred in Egypt in 2010 – more than 7 percent of that country’s population, while almost 14 million cases occurred that year in Pakistan. Dengue has also emerged in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, while in both Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Rift valley fever has also appeared – the first time this mosquito-transmitted viral infection has been seen outside of Africa. There is concern that such viral infections could affect pilgrims entering Saudi Arabia during the Hajj this coming fall, as could the new MERS coronavirus, or the recently discovered Alkhurma hemorrhagic virus. Both viruses were first discovered in Saudi Arabia.