Disease Control by Decree

How not to deal with epidemics.

Jack Woodall
Mar 31, 2007

An epidemic of half-truths is breaking out all over the world. Consider:

• A year ago, an epidemic of acute watery diarrhea broke out in Ethiopia. As of February 21 of this year, the country officially admitted having 60,000 cases and more than 680 deaths. But, contrary to concerns of the World Health Organization (WHO) and neighboring states, which are being affected by the disease, the Ethiopian Health Ministry refuses to declare an emergency and denies that the disease is cholera, saying the outbreak is being contained. To admit that the epidemic is cholera, the country, which signed on to the International Health Regulations, would be obliged to report it to WHO.

• Bangladesh hosts the world-famous International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research. Every year the institute publishes a report on its activities, which include the identification of cholera in local patients. However, Bangladesh officially has no cholera within its...

Jack Woodall is director of the Nucleus for the Investigation of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Institute of Medical Biochemistry at Brazil's Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. jwoodall@the-scientist.com