Infectious diseases are an important part of the study of international relations. Infectious diseases have various consequences for individuals, their families, as well as their communities. Furthermore, states and international actors are also vary active in working to prevent infectious diseases, as well as the spread of such diseases. In this article, we shall discuss the importance of studying about infectious diseases in international relations. We shall also examine the various types of diseases, the effects that they have on societies and the world as a whole, as well as domestic and international responses to these diseases.
Infectious Diseases as a Global Issue
Infectious diseases is amongst one of the most important global issues in international relations. To begin, “[g]lobally, infectious diseases remain the leading killers of human beings. More than a quarter of all deaths today are linked to infectious diseases, with the developing world facing the brunt of the problem” (Payne, 2013: 276). However, many aspects of international relations, and more specifically, globalization, have brought new light onto the issue of global diseases.
Globalization and the effects of this on the spread of infectious diseases is not new. For example, as early as humans were moving, they were taking germs with them. And looking at history, we find that diseases were spread throughout various continents. For example, there was a Plague of Justinian around 541 after the common era, which killed many throughout Europe. There was also the bubonic plague, which took the lives of 25 million people (1/3rd of the population in Europe at the time) (Payne, 2013: 277). Furthermore, the Native American populations in the United States suffered severely from diseases brought over Europeans (Payne, 2013).
With the movement of individuals, or products, the possibilities of spreading infectious diseases internationally are increased. There are many diseases that are being monitored through human movement and trade, which include the Ebola virus, the mad cow disease, as well as many other infectious diseases, which we shall discuss below.
Wars and Infectious Diseases
Along with increased travel (and quicker travel, and the effects that this has on the spread of infectious diseases), diseases have also been spread through the movement due not to trade or tourism, but rather, through war. For example, it has been pointed out that “[c]ombatants are often more likely to die from infectious diseases than from actual fighting” (Payne, 2013: 277). During the American Civil War, for example, it has been said that over 600,000 deaths occurred not due to direct conflict, but rather because of infectious diseases (Price-Smith, 2009, in Payne, 2013).
Types of Infectious Diseases
There are a number of infectious diseases that exist throughout the world, many of which are serious problems for human security. Below are just some of the infectious diseases that exist.
Malaria: Malaria is a disease “found primarily in the Tropics” and is spread through mosquitos (Payne, 2013: 282). Malaria is a global problem, with particularly attention to Africa, since the vast majority of deaths due to malaria are in African countries (Payne, 2013). Malaria itself is avoidable, and if contracted, is treatable, if the available medicine is taken. However, economically poorer countries may not have the needed medicine to treat malaria patients.
There have been global efforts to combat Malaria for over a century. Early on during the fight against Malaria, quinine was used. However, during World War II, it was found that DDT was effective against malaria. And thus, many states users DDT in the fight against malaria. But malaria was not completely controlled, since a number of states did not have the resources to use these sprays. In addition, “widespread use of DDT engendered resistance to it at a time when more people were becoming aware of its danger to human health and the environment” (Payne, 2013: 283). More recently, the international community has taken a multi-pronged approach that includes medicine, as well as other approaches such as mosquito nets, as well as overall treatment and eradication of the disease (Payne, 2013).
Payne, R. (2013). Global Issues. New York, New York. Pearson.
Price-Smith, A. (2009). Contagion and Chaos, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.