Opinion

Defending Against Infectious Diseases

More so than any other time in recent memory, 2015 brought unprecedented challenges regarding effective responses to infectious disease outbreaks. Ebola spread from Africa to the U.S., a woman was quarantined with an antibiotic resistant strain of tuberculosis and a measles outbreak in California reinforced the need to vaccinate children to prevent the diseases that have been nearly eradicated in the U.S. To protect against the spread of these diseases at home and abroad, we need innovative technologies that not only facilitate rapid response, but also provide effective solutions for ongoing monitoring.

This point was reinforced last week when the United Nations hosted the International Ebola Recovery Conference. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy on Ebola Dr. David Nabarro indicated that the fight against Ebola was winnable, but a sustained effort would be critical. World leaders convened and pledged $3.4 Billion in aid to help these countries fight this devastating disease that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thankfully, the future is bright. While some companies and organizations are developing tests that aim to detect the presence of malaria or Ebola in minutes, thereby facilitating rapid responses, others are developing mobile laboratories that can be deployed to help monitor the progression of these diseases, and it is the formidable combination of these efforts that will ultimately lead to successful infection management.

Consider malaria. The entirely preventable and treatable mosquito-borne illness is still identified as a significant global health risk. While progress has been made to fight the disease and public and private funding over the past 10 years has cut malaria by nearly 50 percent worldwide, recent research suggests that malaria cases have spiked in Africa as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

Since infectious disease labs in the developing world are typically centrally located and treat individuals with a variety of conditions, including Ebola, patients exhibiting malaria symptoms are often too afraid to visit the hospitals or clinics because they fear they will contract the more serious disease. Without the technology to address this issue, we run the risk of regressing.

Being able to rapidly identify the presence of a disease and quarantine an individual to contain the infection it is a tremendous advancement. When coupled with a mobile laboratory that not only supports disease surveillance efforts, but also effectively reaches remote communities to help prevent individuals from traveling and spreading infection, the potential to change the way we identify and treat these patients is tremendous.

Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA and former Secretary of Defense, has emphasized the “strong need for greater partnership between the private sector and the government and military to share information.” Technological advances move quickly and we need a combination of public-private partnerships to adequately address these types of crises.

We face more challenges than ever before, and bringing together different technologies to solve pressing health care issues like infectious disease outbreaks represents an effective progression, and deriving value for U.S. citizens, as well as global health.

Mr. Ren Capocasale is a scientist who founded the FlowMetric family of companies to help improve patient health around the world. His company recently unveiled the Mo-POD™, a small, solar-powered mobile laboratory that can be deployed to support the diagnosis of infectious diseases across the globe.

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