ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Emerging Diseases and Socio-spatial Disparities

Lessons from Dengue Virus in Delhi

In less than two decades, new viruses that were thought to have been controlled have re-emerged worldwide. Socially disadvantaged individuals and urban health inequities may help spread such diseases. Just as social sciences originally used diseases as a powerful prism to study inequalities in urban areas, there is now a case for using social sciences to analyse and solve global health issues.

Over the past few weeks, Zika virus has been constantly mentioned on television and in newspapers. The scourge is the latest in a long line of recent highly publicised epidemics of varying severity, including Ebola, dengue, chikungunya, H1N1 and H5N1. Despite the great hope in the 1960s and 1970s that insecticides, antibiotics, vaccination and improved hygiene would eradicate infectious diseases, the increasing frequency of emerging diseases bears testament to our overconfidence.

Indeed, at the end of the 1990s, 20 years after having declared infectious diseases under control, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked its members to be prepared for an international crisis. While some infections were controlled, if not eradicated, new viruses emerged or the ones that were thought to have been controlled re-emerged. Dubbed as emerging or re-emerging diseases (ERED), they represent great threats for human life and well-being, as revealed by the recent outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, Zika virus in America and dengue in Delhi. The resurgence of viruses has to be contextualised within the socio-economic, political and sanitary evolution of the world, where urbanisation has taken centre stage. Socially disadvantaged individuals living in urban settings suffer from an increased burden of disease, and urban health inequities may provide a propitious environment for the expansion of emerging diseases.

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