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Wall Street Journal Reports On Building Epidemiological Capacity In Developing Countries

The Wall Street Journal examines programs funded partly by the U.S. government that are helping “Nigeria, Vietnam and dozens of other countries” to expand “efforts to respond to disease threats, as epidemics add to the burden on their health-care systems and new pathogens spread around the globe.”

“The CDC has established 35 programs since 1980, mostly in developing countries, with funding from several U.S. government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and has 11 more in the works. Participants investigated 216 outbreaks in 2009, from H1N1 flu outbreaks in Thai schools, prisons, and temples to HIV among children in Kyrgyzstan. Among the countries that are starting or have recently started programs are Iraq and Afghanistan. Haiti is under consideration too,” according to the newspaper. The article notes that international law now requires countries to report some outbreaks or “public-health events and to upgrade their disease surveillance and response capabilities.”

Building epidemiological capacity “may be the single most important thing we do in global health,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden said. “‘We’re all very attuned to the shortage of doctors and nurses in developing countries,’ he said, but the shortage of epidemiologists and other public-health workers is even more acute given the impact they can have.” According to the newspaper, Frieden “is pushing for expansion of the program, estimating that at least one epidemiologist for every 200,000 people is needed to adequately measure disease threats. The CDC programs have produced about 2,200 graduates over 30 years. Had H1N1 flu been detected in Mexico two months earlier, a vaccine would have been ready before the largest peak of disease in the U.S. last fall, saving thousands of lives, he said.”

The article highlights some program accomplishments in Nigeria, China, Vietnam, former Soviet countries and Ethiopia (McKay, 9/22).

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