Disease biggest killer – Public health lags behind problem

Although earthquakes and floods receive more news coverage, infectious diseases kill far more people than natural disasters, according to a new report by the Red Cross, the New York Times reported June 29.

The death toll from diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria was 160 times greater last year than the number of people killed in Turkey’s earthquakes, cyclones in India and floods in Venezuela, according to the “World Disasters Report” of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The federation estimates that 150 million people have died from those three diseases since 1945, as compared to 23 million in wars during the same time period.

“Everywhere we do disaster relief, we found the disaster was built on the shaky bedrock of poor public health,” Peter Walker, head of disaster policy and author the report, told the Times.

Preventive medicine and education are needed to combat increasing health risks from climate change, urbanization and environmental damage, the Red Cross said, but governments are lagging behind the need.

Because of this lag, diseases that were once under control are spreading again – malaria in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, for example.

Last year, 13 million people died from diseases that could have been prevented by spending as little as $5 per person in health care, the report said. Money spent on changing people’s behavior saves more lives than money for expensive hospitals and high-tech equipment.

For full text, go to the New York Times.

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