Growing Cholera Threat Focus of Smith Hearing of Global Health Panel
The growing threat of cholera in the Middle East and other areas was the central focus of testimony by leading U.S. authorities at a hearing held today by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s global health subcommittee, Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04).
“The World Health Organization reported the spread of a cholera epidemic that first began in Iraq in 2007 that crossed over into Iran, Syria and is considered the region’s greatest, although not only, health threat,” Smith said. “These threats are worsened by the targeting of health workers in Syria and an Islamic State that has no experience and little interest in providing social services. Thus, cholera and other diseases are untreated, often unreported and pose a significant health threat in the region due to poor sanitation and overcrowding in areas such as refugee camps.”
Smith held the congressional hearing, entitled “The Growing Threat of Cholera and other Diseases in the Middle East,” Wednesday, March 2. He has held other global health hearings on threats such as smallpox, polio, Ebola, Zika and other health threats.
Cholera, a bacteria found in contaminated water supplies and spread in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene, thrives in severely disrupted environments, such as certain countries in the Middle East like Syria and Iraq. It is an acute disease that can cause death within hours, if left untreated. Roughly 80 percent of those who contract the disease do not develop symptoms, thus precisely how many people contract the disease annually is not known.
“Scientists estimate that between 1.4 and 4.3 million people contract cholera annually, of whom 28,000 to 142,000 die,” Smith said. Click here to read the chairman’s remarks.
Dr. Host Peter J. Hotez, M.D., President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a biomedical scientist and pediatrician and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, was the opening witness. Dr. Hotez is also the U.S. Science Envoy for the State Department and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, focusing on the urgency to develop vaccines for diseases that are emerging in the Middle East and North Africa due to breakdowns in health systems in the ISIS-occupied conflict zones in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. He pointed out successful actions by the United States to curb health threats and save lives.
“The bottom line is impressive: A 30% reduction in the number of malaria cases and in the number of malaria deaths, approximately 300,000-400,000 lives saved annually,” Hotez said, “turning the corner on HIV/AIDS cases and deaths, especially in Africa, with an estimated 19 million lives saved and a significant decrease in the number of deaths. Third, we have cut the number of cases of three Neglected Tropical Diseases by 30-40 percent.
“While USG (U.S. Government) programs should continue for the poorest countries, we could eliminate at least one-half of the world’s neglected diseases if the leaders of the G20 countries would commit to taking on these diseases within their own populations,” Hotez said. Click here to read Dr. Hotez statement
Dr. Issam I. Raad, M.D., President of the Health Outreach to the Middle East, said the escalating conflict in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, has been associated with a “rapid collapse of the existing healthcare system” resulting in a public health catastrophe.
“The devastation resulting from the escalating Civil War in these countries has introduced alarming epidemics that have spread rapidly within the region and have the potential to spread globally creating a Public health emergency,” Raad said. Click here to read Dr. Raad’s testimony.
Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Director of Global Health Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies, said between September 2015 and January 2016, a major cholera outbreak occurred in Iraq. Most recent WHO figures report 4,864 confirmed cases of cholera throughout Iraq.
“Syria and the surrounding region simply cannot be ignored on health security grounds,” Morrison testified. “It should be a high priority, matched by stepped up U.S. engagement. As dangerous and fluid as the situation is—far more dangerous, I admit, than West Africa or the Americas--there is much more the United States can and should do to establish a standing U.S. technical field presence in the region, improve data and surveillance, build capacity in partner states where it is possible, especially in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.” Click here to read Morrison’s statement.