health | October 06, 2013

Atlantic Meets Pacific 2013: A Global Health Lecture By Laurie Garrett

"Some people fly into tornadoes, Laurie flies into epidemics." That's what the host of The Atlantic Meets the Pacific 2013 conference said of Laurie Garrett, one of America's most trusted speakers on public health, infectious disease, and prevention. Titled "Global Health and Global Threats," Garrett was an ideal speaker to share her take on emerging global health risks thanks to her vast experience in the field. For example, she went to China during the height of the SARS epidemic and stayed in the country for the duration of the outbreak to study the results.

The host joked that the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist might have a career in screenwriting thanks to the chilling subject matter she presented. As Garrett pointed out, she has been a part of the film industry. She was a consultant for the Steven Soderbergh film Contagion—and many of her "five existential health threats" got tossed around while working on the set of the medical thriller. As the host of the conference jokes, if you plan on sleeping tonight, learning about these global threats may make it tough to sleep easy.

Below are the five global health concerns that Garrett says need our attention:

  • Known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, this SARS-like disease comes out of Saudi Arabia. Garrett says this illness is particularly worrisome because there will soon by millions of people pouring into Saudi Arabia for hajj (an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) who will be all in close contact with one another.

A whole new kind of email virus:
  • When 3D printing becomes 4D printing, Garrett says that email viruses will take on a whole new meaning. From a national security standpoint, “It’s about information. I can send a sequence to somebody’s printer thousands of miles away, and that sequence is the key to creating a dangerous organism,” she explains. When we are able to create self-replicating structures that we can print, the ability to create and send deadly organisms with ease through the internet will increase exponentially. This may sound like science fiction, but Garrett reminds us that companies in Silicon Valley are already refining the 4D printing technique today.

Mistrust of vaccinations:
  • After the CIA developed a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to infiltrate Osama bin Laden's camp, militant groups used paranoia over vaccination programs to justify a campaign claiming that polio vaccinations have to be stopped.

Virus production in the name of science:
  • Many virologists are experimenting with existing viruses and creating new ones to essentially try to answer the "what ifs" of disease control. “I don’t think there’s any evil here," Garrett says, "but I think that there’s a lot of bizarre, misplaced scientific intent.”

An aging population:
  • “As people age, every society is getting more cancer, more heart disease, more diabetes, more chronic health problems," she says.“[And] we don’t have an architecture of global health that has a clue how to address these issues.”

To book Laurie Garrett as a presenter at your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

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