Infectious diseases – not gone and not forgotten

2016 has been quite the year from many perspectives. A recent editorial in The Lancet highlights some of the health-related topics that have arisen over the past 12 months and one of the main topics mentioned from this year struck a chord.

I have worked in infectious diseases for longer than I care to remember, in research, medical education and also from a patient support perspective. To say there has been monumental progress in the infectious disease areas that I know best (HIV and Hepatitis) – even in the past 3 to 5 years –  is an understatement. In Hepatitis C for example, we have a number of pan-genotypic treatments that can, for all intents and purposes, offer a cure. In HIV, there is now (reluctant) consideration on the part of NHS England to fund pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

However, the apparent sudden emergence of Zika virus in 2016 which, as well as bringing prominence to a relatively obscure virus previously only known to researchers, demonstrates that the threat from new and emerging infectious diseases is omnipresent. While Zika is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, from antibiotic-resistant bacteria to flu, the potential public health risk remains and we cannot afford to be complacent. In fact, a suspected outbreak of Chikungunya virus (another mosquito-borne virus) very recently caused some concern in Pakistan.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Lancet editorial mentioned that for 2017, the main focus for the healthcare community must be making progress towards Universal Health Coverage globally. In light of the threat posed by infectious diseases, it is important that access to treatment and care remains high on the healthcare agenda. Even with the progress that has been made, this is especially true for HIV and Hepatitis. Ensuring equitable access to treatment not only treats those living with the disease but also offers a public health gain by preventing onward transmission.

To successfully combat this threat, we need to consider prevention, monitoring, diagnosis, treatment and patient and carer education around such potential threats. At a time of impending division in Europe and across the West and unprecedented numbers of displaced communities, the need for forward planning and global co-operation is huge. As extended members of the healthcare community, we in the medical communications industry are in a position to work alongside key stakeholders to play a role in overcoming the threat posed.

As far as infectious diseases are concerned, we must celebrate our wins but we must also remain vigilant and agile in our ability to respond, across the board and across the globe.

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