GUEST COMMENTARY: Global health initiatives protect American lives

2014-05-05T16:02:00Z 2014-05-05T17:53:30Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Global health initiatives protect American livesBy Oscar Lanzi
May 05, 2014 4:02 pm  • 

Recently the USA’s first incident of MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) appeared in Northwest Indiana. The person involved arrived from Saudi Arabia, where cases of MERS have grown rapidly.

But this is far from the first incident of international travel exposing Americans to disease. It has happened several times in the recent past with more common, contagious diseases that have become intrinsically rare in the United States but are more common overseas.

Travel abroad is an integral part of American life – it includes business travelers, vacationers, students from abroad and internationally deployed military troops.

One of the best known cases was Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta lawyer who in 2007 returned with drug-resistant TB upon returning from flight to Greece.

In 2013, a US Airways flight was delayed because a U.S. citizen, who was traveling internationally, was identified as a possible TB risk.

A mumps outbreak in 2009-10 was traced to a single person who had traveled to England and spread the disease through a summer camp in New York.

U.S. troops deployed in Pakistan to respond to that country’s 2005 earthquake had to treat local residents for tetanus to avoid becoming infected themselves.

While such incidents are rare, each puts fellow travelers and members of the community at risk.

A single student’s case of drug-resistant TB prompted testing for nearly 150 classmates in the Fort Wayne area. The mumps outbreak mentioned above ultimately affected more than 1,500 people.

Fortunately, this is a problem with several solutions. Our own troops benefits from the military’s medical programs, described in detail at Civilian travelers can visit for travel information involving health risks of all kinds.

Government, too, can act to reduce the risk of diseases. Congress has wisely refrained from cutting support for global health programs. Among these are the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which addresses three of the most common, contagious diseases on the developing world. Not only has this saved millions of lives over the last 10 years, it has also contributed to a decrease in TB cases (and thus the TB risk to international travelers) by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012.

These solutions will not eliminate all risk for international travelers. But they do minimize this risk.

When incidents such as the recent MERS exposure and Andrew Speaker’s multi-drug resistant tuberculosis case do occur, they remind us that even in an age of austerity, global health – thus, global disease control – is not just an international feel-good issue. It is essential for the security of our own globally connected country.

Oscar Lanzi, of Chicago, is a member of RESULTS, a volunteer citizens' lobby dedicated to ending hunger and poverty. The opinions are the writer's.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Times

Latest Local Offers

Featured Businesses

Submit a Letter to Editor

We welcome letters from readers on any issue of public interest, and make every effort to publish as many as we can and in a timely manner. The Times will publish only one letter a month from a writer, and be sure to include your name, address and a telephone number for verification. Letters should be 150 words or less. They will be edited.

Letters may be submitted:
  • Via our submission form.
  • Via e-mail.
  • Via fax: (219) 933-3249 or (219) 465-7298
  • Via mail or by hand to our offices:
    • 601 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321
    • 2080 N. Main St., Crown Point, IN 46307
    • 1111 Glendale Blvd., Valparaiso, IN 46383
    • 3410 Delta Dr., Portage, IN 46368
    • Please mark envelopes with "Attn: Letters"


Email Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross or call (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357



Who do you support for Porter County commissioner?

View Results