Monday, 6 December 2010

to state the obvious: Wars cause Disease

UNICEF are calling for a cease-fire in order to administer polio vaccinations in war-torn regions of the DR Congo as the disease makes an aggressive return in the area. Polio vaccination teams have struggled for many years to get to war-torn areas, leaving large segments of the population unvaccinated against the highly contagious disease. 

But the break-down of basic health services is by far not the main cause of war-time disease. Armed conflicts have long been associated with disease outbreaks by creating the necessary conditions for epidemics to explode: destruction of infrastructure including water supply and sanitation facilities, displacing civilians and creating refugees who are often driven into overcrowded and unsanitary settlements.

Dormant diseases can surge back to life in the event of war, as in the case of typhus which after an absence of twelve years broke out in the refugee camps created during the Burundi civil war in 1993. 

Malaria has also shown to spike when populations are displaced, as refugees travel they are exposed to strains to which they have little resistance and then transmit the disease to populations that they come in contact with as they continue their trek.  Regnol-Querol found that 1000 civil war refugees raise the incidence of malaria in the recipient country by 1400 cases.  The upheaval and massive population movements during the Russian Civil War caused a major malaria epidemic in Volga basin, which stretched northward as far as the Arctic Circle - hard to imagine in a disease which we now view as tropical.

Soldiers are of course no less susceptible to war-time epidemics than the civilian  population. For example, it  is estimated that during the American Civil War malaria killed three out of five Federal casualties and two out of three Confederates. In the Russian-Finnish conflict in the 40's malaria was also a major cause of death among the troops.

Conditions of war not only exacerbate endemic disease but can also cause new disease to appear. Armed conflicts in the Great Lakes region in Africa have displaced millions in the last few decades, many of whom have been driven into normally uninhabited jungle where they come into contact with the natural animal hosts of hitherto unknown diseases; disease which they may contract and pass onto the general population. This is likely the cause of the Ebola, first identified in the DR Congo  In West Africa the increase in outbreaks of  new haemorrhagic fevers are likely to have first been introduced to humans from monkeys when refugees in Liberia and Sierra Leone were displaced into the surrounding jungles

The 1918 Flu pandemic, which killed at least 40 million people was a new and terrifying strain believed to have emerged from over-crowded training camps and barracks in the UK, where there were reports of young men dying soon after first displaying symptoms of a pneumonic, flu-like illness. When the men were sent off to the front, they came in contact with hundreds of thousands of other soldiers, allowing the virus to spread, change and mutate and become even more virulent. The frontlines had all the conditions of refugee camps, with hundreds of thousands of young men living in squalid unsanitary, overcrowded camps, ideal areas for the spread of disease. When the soldiers left the frontlines and returned home, they came back carrying more lethal forms of the virus which they re-introduced into the civilian population.



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  2. War affects all. Through war, people are not just killed because of masive attacks by missiles, guns, and what so ever war macines. War can cause many diseases due to drought, no foods, no houses, no clean air, no clean water, etc.

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    1. Agree. Diseases are merely part of them. Give Peace a chance!

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