Three Global Health Threats

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has underscored the need to strengthen health systems at both the national and global level. But, though Ebola has focused the world’s attention on systemic shortcomings, the goal must be to combat abiding epidemics that are inflicting suffering and death on populations worldwide.

SAN FRANCISCO – The tragic Ebola outbreak in West Africa has underscored the imperative of strengthening health systems at both the national and global level. But, though Ebola has focused the world’s attention on systemic shortcomings, the goal must be to combat the abiding epidemics that are quietly inflicting suffering and death on populations worldwide.

Ebola has undoubtedly wrought tremendous agony. But it is not the first – or the most devastating – pandemic the world has faced. In fact, smallpox is the deadliest disease known to humanity; until Edward Jenner developed the vaccine in 1796, it was the leading cause of death in Europe. Before its eradication in 1980, it killed an estimated 300-500 million people.

The Bubonic plague of the fourteenth century killed 75-100 million people – more than half of Europe’s population. Nearly 75 million people, or 3-5% of the world’s population, died in just a few months during the 1918 influenza pandemic – more than twice the number of people killed in World War I.

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