It’s time for ‘tsunami-sized awakening’
By Fariss Samarrai
When the earthquake and tsunami struck southern Asia on Dec. 26, the developed nations of the world watched in horror and amazement — and then jumped into action.
An enormous relief effort now is under way, which is likely saving tens of thousands of lives. This is good, of course, that we respond during times of crises, said Dr. Richard Guerrant, an infectious disease specialist and director of U.Va.’s Center for Global Health. But the developed world tends to close its eyes to the sufferings in the Third World during times of apparent calm, he said, emphasizing it’s time for a “tsunami-sized awakening.”
“Hopefully this disaster is making apparent to the developed world the dreadful water and sanitation problems that Third World countries deal with at all times, not only during catastrophes,” Guerrant said. “The United States and other countries are now competing to out-donate each other to the affected in southern Asia. The question is: Will we still be available to help for the long-term, not only in the immediate aftermath of such visually dramatic disasters?”
Guerrant has been treating patients and conducting infectious disease research in several countries for more than 30 years. He is an outspoken advocate for improving health worldwide, particularly for the poor in developing nations. More than 5,000 children die each day in the developing world from chronic — and common — diarrhea, he said. More will die in southern Asia as infection spreads in the weeks and months following this disaster.
few weeks ago, Guerrant joined Dr. William Petri, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, who convened a meeting with colleagues to discuss what the University can do for sick and poor people in tsunami-affected areas and throughout the world. He said the consensus is that U.Va. must continue its long-term efforts to improve health around the globe, and seek to establish long-term partnerships with clinicians and scientists in the tsunami-affected nations.
“One of the things we do best at U.Va. is establishing long-term partnerships that engage and teach us and help reverse the ‘brain drain,’” Guerrant said.
The Center for Global Health already has several ongoing health and research programs operated in collaboration with institutions in Africa, South America and Asia, including Thailand and Bangladesh.
Most recently, thanks to the efforts of Dr. W. Michael Scheld, professor of internal medicine and infectious disease, the Pfizer Foundation established a new set of Pfizer/Center for Global Health Postdoctoral Fellowships in Infectious Disease at U.Va. The fellowships will allow international researchers in developing areas to come work with U.Va. mentors, and U.Va. researchers to work with mentors in developing nations.
“These awards will help us expand on our innovative and sustained cross-disciplinary international partnerships in order to address urgent issues involving infectious diseases and global health,” Guerrant said.