Killer Diseases Have No Respect for National or Political Borders

Understandings that societies have about illnesses have social ramifications that extend beyond the physiological conditions alone. Cancer and heart disease are major causes of death in North America. AIDS, a new disease, is an epidemic with great lethal potentiality. All three diseases are experienced directly or indirectly by most of the population of North America. In a mass society, one significant source of information about disease, its nature, causes, and treatment is the mass media.

Heart disease and cancer have the highest mortality rates of all diseases in North America today. They are, respectively, the number one and number two causes of death for men and for women in Canada and the United States. By 1983, AIDS had reached the status of being one of the most talked and written about diseases. Its rapid spread, coupled with the causes of its contagion and its association with death and virtual lack of treatability, has made it a very fearsome disease (Armelagos, 1998). Because of their importance to the health and well-being of North American society, cancer, heart disease, and AIDS have been chosen as diseases of significance for universal problems.

The urgency of the infectious disease challenge currently confronting the global community cannot be ignored. People in both the developed and the developing worlds are being exposed on a daily basis to new and reemerging pathogens, a pattern that is continually exacerbated by factors as wide-ranging as globalization, the use and misuse of medical and agricultural technological advances, unsustainable urbanization, environmental degradation, and changing social and behavioral patterns.

The impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa exemplifies the extreme challenges that a country and its citizens can face at all levels when a deadly disease afflicts a large portion of the populace. (?pstein, 1995) The behavior of both individuals and the society as a whole-such as the prevalence of unprotected sex, the poor treatment of women, and the lack of a proactive response by the government-has exacerbated the spread of HIV as well as amplified its consequences, in terms of human life, confidence in government, political stability, and world standing. ((Worthy, 1999)) The HIV/AIDS epidemic has, in fact, left South Africa unprepared to meet its external military and, arguably, internal security obligations; incapable of fully meeting its economic potential; and ill-equipped to provide for the most basic social and health needs of its citizens. (CDC, 2001)

The United States has a myriad of programs and processes for combating the threat of infectious disease, most of which rest in local and state hands. While the CDC provides a level of integration for these assets and federal dollars have been set aside to help improve their effectiveness, overall national coordination and management remain ad hoc and disparate. Just as important, authority and resources vary widely across jurisdictions, at both the federal and the state and local levels. (?pstein, 1995) The result has been an underfunded and poorly coordinated public health infrastructure that is currently serving to impede U.S. disease surveillance, prevention, and response efforts.

The federal government should consider playing a more concerted role in providing resources and instituting unified standards to provide consistent microbial protection across the country. At the same time, however, the nature of infectious diseases necessarily means that state and local authorities need to retain a measure of flexibility in implementing programs and ensuring that they are best able to meet their needs. Within this general context, there are several specific and direct measures that could be instituted to address the shortcomings should be identified: ...

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