Friday, May 1, 2009

Quote of the Day (Lundy Braun, on “The New Epidemics”)

“We will have little impact on infectious diseases without addressing the living conditions of large segments of our society and rebuilding our public health infrastructure. In the absence of such a policy, however, future outbreaks will continue to be viewed with the mixture of fascination, fear, helplessness and misdirected social policy that has characterized our response to the recent epidemics.”—Lundy Braun, “How to Fight the New Epidemics,” Providence Journal Bulletin, May 29, 1995

Dr. Braun’s essay was published at a point when “killer viruses”—including the Ebola virus infection, cholera in Latin America, and the re-emergence of TB in the U.S.—was dominating the news. Several years ago, SARS dominated the news; now, of course, swine flu is creating a media sensation.

The agents of globalization—notably, the increase in travel over time—do not appear in Dr. Braun’s analysis. Nevertheless, her arguments remain largely cogent over a decade later, notably concerning our sense of betrayal by these diseases (we thought “that science had won the war against microbial infections”) and the shift in attitudes that made the re-emergence of such diseases inevitable (scientific and medical communities began to rely increasingly on “magic bullets” rather than “disease prevention programs based on sanitary reforms”).

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