There is a yellow fever epidemic in Sudan, characterized by the press as the world’s worst in twenty years. The international community is assisting with vaccinations and laboratory support. With many Chinese nationals now working in Sudan, Beijing has ordered local health authorities to scan travelers arriving from Sudan for fevers, and is urging Chinese travelers en route to Sudan to be vaccinated.
The Sudanese yellow fever epidemic and the Chinese response to it is a reminder of Africa’s disease burden. HIV/AIDS gets the most attention in the United States, and most of the beneficiaries of the multi-billion dollar President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) are in Africa. HIV/AIDS jumps borders, but slowly. Polio in northern Nigeria has the potential to spread internationally quickly–as it has before. Viruses that have established themselves in Africa, such as avian influenza, could mutate to be lethal to humans and spread rapidly within the continent and worldwide.
With frequent travel across borders and increasing international aviation, we live in an inescapably inter-connected world. Infectious diseases in particular, make the distance between nations much smaller. Disease in Africa, and how to respond to it, should be higher on the political agenda in the United States.