public health | July 20, 2016

Timely Diagnoses: Laurie Garrett Assesses Zika and Global Health for CFR

Few global health journalists are as esteemed as Laurie Garrett. The recipient of all three P’s of journalism—the Pulitzer, the Polk, and the Peabody—she has been an authority on infectious disease and public health for decades. But Garrett doesn’t see global health issues in a vacuum. She’s a highly interdisciplinary thinker and keynote speaker, analyzing the wider implications of outbreaks: the political, economic, social, and beyond. This week, she’s written a substantial piece for the Council on Foreign Relations—a sweeping, thoughtful assessment of the global health landscape. 


Here are the key takeaways:


1) Mike Pence & Indiana’s Public Health Nightmare


Indiana Governor Mike Pence—Donald Trump’s newly announced running mate—has a dubious public health record at best, Garrett argues. In 2011, he pulled all funding from Planned Parenthood clinics statewide. In 2015, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, granting companies and employers the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And just this year, it became illegal in Indiana to have an abortion based on fetal deformity—a cause for concern, especially given Zika’s potential microcephaly complications. (Watch the following video—Garrett’s address to the 2016 graduating class at Icahn School of Medicine—and her reflections on the American political spectrum, through the lens of health and wellbeing).

Pulitzer Prize Winner Laurie Garrett Addresses Class of 2016


2) Brexit’s House of Cards 


Fallout from the Brexit vote is more than just political, as Garrett asserted last week in Foreign Policy. UK-EU scientific collaboration will suffer. Theresa May’s incoming government threatens DFID contributions to overseas development aid. And the immediate cliff-dive of the pound sterling has crippled both British contributions to UN aid initiatives and remittances sent home by the UK’s immigrant population. 


3) WHO Funding & Fairy Dust 


On February 1st, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan announced a need for $26 million to combat the Zika virus worldwide. When the money failed to trickle in, Chan merely shifted $3.8 million across from another WHO account. This might suffice if there were no other pressing issues, but with a yellow fever outbreak at a three-decade high in Africa, funding is in short supply. The WHO can’t afford to run on fumes, or “fairy dust,” as Garrett dubs it in a Foreign Policy article. We need real finances from real sources, today.


4) Zika: How Worried Should We Be?


Winter has fallen on Brazil. Zika incidence seems in remission, and cautious optimism is in the air. But to Garrett, Zika’s potential as a sexually transmitted disease (as she argues for CNN) may invalidate our hopeful numbers. And a recent case in Utah “presents the possibility of contact transmission via virally contaminated bodily fluids: tears, saliva, blood or urine.” Let’s not celebrate just yet.


5) Frankenstein’s Microbe


Infectious diseases are scary enough on their own, but the rapid emergence of synthetic biology has opened doors for another threat: human-engineered pandemics. Technologies that could enable a deliberately engineered pandemic are starting to crop up, Garrett says, like the CRISPR/cas9 gene-editing system, 3D bioprinters, and the publicly available genome of the 1918 influenza virus. Oxford’s Global Priorities Project warns that such an event could happen within as few as five years, and could eliminate 10 percent of the world’s population. Here’s hoping it’s still just science fiction. 


To book public health speaker Laurie Garrett for your next conference or event—to speak on the Zika virus, fallout from the Brexit vote, U.S. healthcare policies, WHO woes, or any aspect of broader global health—contact The Lavin Agency, her exclusive keynote speakers bureau.


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