Coronavirus is occupying the headlines at the moment – and quite rightly so – but these other diseases continue to circulate. And while their spread may be temporarily curtailed to some degree due to international travel bans, they pose an enduring risk to future travel.
First is tuberculosis (TB). According to the World Health Organization, this disease infected around 10 million people in 2018 and led to 1.5 million deaths; it’s in the top-10 causes of death worldwide despite being curable and preventable.
Indeed, WHO has said that multidrug-resistant TB is a public health crisis, arising due to improper use or mismanagement of antibiotics.
Second on the list is measles. It’s spread via the air in coughs, sneezes and close contact and is so contagious that up to 90 per cent of people surrounding an infected person will get the disease if not already immune.
There is a safe and effective measles vaccine, but this isn’t necessarily available to all, with developing countries experiencing high death rates from the disease.
Third up is malaria, a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, deaths from the disease have reduced by half since 2000; however, one species of mosquito, the Anopheline, is developing resistance to insecticide, and the parasite the mosquito transmits is also starting to resist key drugs. This means the race is on to find new and innovative ways to eradicate the disease.
Fourth is influenza, which for many isn’t too serious but can be fatal for at-risk groups – such as pregnant women, the elderly or people with chronic health conditions. Indeed, according to WHO, three to five million people a year contract severe flu worldwide, and up to 650,000 people die.
Fifth is diarrhoeal disease, which is as unpleasant as it sounds. Diseases such as cholera and dysentery mainly affect children, killing around 525,000 children aged under five every year. Diseases of these types are often caused by poor hygiene and lack of access to clean and safe water and so especially affect the world’s poorest regions.
If a silver lining can be taken from the current Covid-19 pandemic, its that it’s instilled in people an appreciation for the importance of regular and proper handwashing and provided much education on disease transmission and how to stay safe from viral infections. Once the situation starts to abate and travel bans are lifted, hopefully travel can recommence with renewed vigor and also renewed vigilance.