Updated on 8 February 2017
Singapore: Nowadays all that is needed is a passport! The interconnected world makes it easy for superbugs to travel across continents in a jiffy. This puts all major countries in the world at jeopardy and Asia is no exception. With many countries in the subcontinent grappling with serious issues like poor healthcare infrastructure, huge population, less government spending on healthcare and poverty, Asia is an easy target for infectious diseases to thrive, flourish and spread its wings to other continents, thus making Asia a hotspot for epidemics. Infectious diseases of both global and regional nature are becoming more prevalent putting Asia at a serious risk. The past two decades have seen more than 30 re-emerging diseases and unexpected outbreaks of new infectious diseases.
Speaking to BioSpectrum on epidemics and infectious diseases spread, Prof Duane J Gubler, Emeritus Professor, Duke-NUS Medical School, said, " The major drivers of this emergence are several; 1) since WWII, Asia has seen unprecedented population growth. 2) the region has been a focal point of economic development, driving unprecedented urban growth, which has been unplanned and has resulted in millions of people living in unhygienic conditions with substandard housing, inadequate water, sewage and waste management, 3) unplanned urbanisation has created ideal ecologic conditions for all kinds of infectious diseases to flourish 4) every Asian city has a new airport through which millions of people, animals and commodities travel each year, providing the ideal mechanism for spread of these diseases. 5) Finally, very few of the Asian countries have invested adequate resources into their public health infrastructure to prevent and control infectious diseases."
Asia is currently going through a series of major transitions including globalisation, urbanisation, and climate change, which will present future challenges for disease control. It is estimated that by 2020, nearly 400 million business travellers and tourists will flock the region annually, compared to 100 million in 2000. This rapid increase in travel and tourism is a major reason for promotion of disease transmission and spread. Also, by 2050, Asia's urban population is expected to increase by 20-25 percent, which means that 1.5 billion people will live in urban areas. This rapid urbanisation and over-crowding in big cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Jakarta, could increase the risk of infectious disease transmission. Scientific evidence also shows that the felling of tropical forests creates optimal conditions for the spread of mosquito-borne scourges, including malaria and dengue. Primates and other animals are also spreading disease from cleared forests to people.
"We destroy the forest and animals start coming out to us, bringing along the pathogens," said Dr Chong Chee Kheong, Director of the Disease Control Division of the Malaysian Ministry of Health to a leading daily.
In addition, climate change and rising global temperatures also play a major role in spreading of infectious diseases and affecting global ecosystems. This in turn leads to more tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever expanding into temperate regions. Since the 1970s, climate change has contributed to 150,000 more deaths every year from pandemic disease, according to Australian think tank Lowy Institute, with over half of the deaths in Asia.