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Threat to health - PAHO warns of new diseases

Published:Saturday | January 30, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Nadisha Hunter, Gleaner Writer

A senior representative of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has issued a dire forecast of the possible emergence of a number of new diseases in the coming years.

Dr Earnest Pate, PAHO's Jamaica representative, says the increase is already noticeable and is cause for concern.

"Over the past two decades, we have seen on an average, two new zoonotic diseases every three years, and we have seen an increase in the number of emerging diseases, which are coming at a faster and faster rate," Pate told journalists on Thursday at the opening ceremony of a two-day, pandemic influenza workshop for journalists across the Caribbean.

The workshop, which was held in New Kingston, was facilitated by the Voice of America in collaboration with the United States Embassy in St Andrew.

According to Pate, the increasing number of new diseases could be partially attributed to the rapidity of travel activities across the world.

"We are living in a world where it takes less time to travel from one part to another when compared to about two decades ago. This rapidity of travel is good, but it carries some drawbacks with it," Pate said.

Timely workshop

Pate lauded the organisers of the workshop, which he described as timely. He argued that in order for persons to handle the changing situation, health officials needed to recognise that it was crucial to build relationships with journalists, who disseminate the information to public.

That was a position shared by Dr Sheila Campbell-Forrester, chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health. She said the workshop was being held at a time when the world was struggling to deal with the H1N1 outbreak, which has resulted in 7,166 confirmed deaths in 28 countries in the Americas, and the Haitian earthquake catastrophe, which has presented numerous health-related problems.