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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Garrett talks global disease

Former Newsday health and science writer breaks down HIV in the world

Newsday health and science writer Laurie Garrett spoke at the Omni Hotels Lecture last night about the effects of diseases on the global society.

Garrett began by examining the effects the tsunami had on the south Asian region of the globe. She said the earthquake that triggered the tsunami was “the most phenomenal earthquake, probably, in contemporary history.”

Despite the damage done by the tsunami, Garrett believes it brought the world together for a brief period and showed that “we can operate as a global community.”

She pointed to the outpouring aid of $6 billion from a variety of countries as proof. However, she noted that “most of the pledge money has never materialized.” She singled out Sri Lanka pointing to the fact that the country has received only 4 percent of the $6 billion worth of aid. Despite this small number of aid received, Garrett does not believe it is an atypical situation, judging other natural disasters. A larger amount of money is needed according to Garrett to stop current problems from lasting.

“It’s the long-term commitment to the region that matters,”

she said.

The first problem Garrett worried about after the tsunami was an outbreak of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and Dengue fever. She believes the early steps taken to quell an outbreak will not be worthwhile if long-term steps are not taken. She noted that like human settlements, mosquitoes’ habitats were destroyed when the tsunami came ashore. The real problem according to Garrett, is when the mosquitoes are able to rebuild their habitats.

Cholera and dysentery are two other illnesses that concern Garrett. The main transmission of these sicknesses comes from unsanitary drinking water.

“Again the problem is not in the immediate [timeframe],” she said. “Will people be able to get fresh water a year from now?”

Other diseases Garrett mentioned were diseases that have known vaccinations such as tetanus, typhoid, measles and polio.

She pointed to Indonesia, where about 20 percent of the children were vaccinated before the tsunami.

“There was good reason to be concerned,” she said.

Another problem Garrett foresees is not in the illnesses, but in the antibiotics that are meant to treat illnesses. She is worried that strains will develop a resistance to the antibiotics because of overuse.

“We see promotion of these … very highly resistant strains of antibiotics,” she said.

Garrett is also worried about the massive use of the drugs.

“There has been a tendency to do a widespread distribution of antibiotics,” she said. “I’ve seen what happens to these antibiotics.”

She noted that some of the antibiotics meant for disaster areas wind up on the black market and in some cases overused by the citizens of the affected population.

The biggest thing Garrett is worried about affecting the south Asian region is a worldwide problem: HIV.

“One of the things I’m very worried about is HIV,” she said. “The conditions are better in some ways than in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Specifically, Garrett pointed to the region’s sex slavery, human trafficking, lack of women’s rights and brothels as catalysts for an explosion of the deadly virus.

“In general, the conditions are right,” she said.

The problem with HIV is a larger global issue that bothers Garrett.

“One of the key features of the HIV pandemic is its extreme mortality rate,” she said. Referring to the models illustrating the mortality rate, she added, “There’s no sign of a plateau or classic bell curve.”

“We don’t see that in HIV.”

All the signs indicate that the virus is only in its “infancy” according to Garrett.

“It’s just beginning.”

In the United States, Garrett said the issue has been put on the backburner because of the drug cocktails that raise the life expectancy of those that have the virus.

“The numbers of newly infected Americans keeps going up every single year,” she said. “It shows no sign of waning.”

Garrett likened the HIV pandemic to the Black Plague.

“We’re basically in a slow motion version of the Black Death,” she said. “What you have to use your imagination to see is that HIV is precisely the same thing, it’s just a slower microbe.”

Garrett believes that some of the historical effects of the Black Death such as loss in faith in religion, erosion in feudalistic control, depletion of agricultural labor force, disruption of lineages of power, widespread property disputes and an increase in tensions between the rich and poor will be similar to the long-term effects of HIV.

Garrett pointed to the sub-Saharan region of Africa as the most affected region of the world.“We’re already seeing life expectancy go backwards in some key countries,” she said. Specifically, she referred to Botswana as a nation ravaged by HIV.

“[It’s] an absolute economic catastrophe,” she said. “In real time already, we’re witnessing cultural extinction.”

Despite the massive outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa, other areas are just as much at risk for a pandemic disaster.

“The fastest growing component is the former Soviet Union, especially Russia,” Garrett said.

Factors for the promotion of the virus in the former Soviet Union include a lack of infection control, an unsafe blood supply and the sharing of needles according to Garrett.

“Heroine and other forms of narcotics that are injected are what is driving HIV in the former Soviet Union,” she said.

Historically, Garrett attributed some of the blame to plastic disposable syringes.

“They’re meant to be used once,” she said. “You cannot sterilize them.”

Compared to the glass and steel syringes used in early medical practices that could be boiled as a method of sterilization, Garrett believes the plastic syringes have helped spread diseases.

She pointed to a new auto-destruct syringe adopted by India as a step in the right direction in stopping the sharing of needles. The needles in the syringes retract after the injection and cannot be used again.

Garrett called the auto-destruct syringes “a great, great breakthrough that India has made,” but noted that “the rest of the world needs to follow.”

Another catalyst of the spread of all diseases, not just HIV is the rise of megacities.

According to Garrett the huge cities with a population of 10 million or more create “hitchhiking possibilities, if you will, for microbes.”

Overall, Garrett believes the slowing of the HIV pandemic is well into the future. HIV is a retrovirus, meaning it affects the infected person’s DNA.

“We’re very fortunate that HIV is the only retrovirus circulation through the human population,” she said.

Despite the world’s fortune in this respect, Garrett reminded the audience, “for the most of the world … the HIV pandemic is nothing but death, death and more death.”

Aside from being the health and science writer for Newsday, Garrett is the author of two best-selling books — Betrayal of Trust: the Collapse of Global Public Health and The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. She is also the only person to win the Pulitzer Prize, the George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award and the George C. Polk Award.

Her next book is a study on emerging diseases in relation to national security.

The next Tate Lecture will feature renowned anthropologist and author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, Wade Davis. The lecture is scheduled for April 12 at 8 p.m.

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