As the world gets hotter, hungrier and more riven by conflict, experts say that the conditions are being created for a global infectious disease pandemic of unprecedented proportions. And they warn that this perfect storm of changes to the planet and its inhabitants is accelerating the death, disability and destruction wrought by a broad array of diseases that have existed for decades, and even centuries.
War and conflict are creating millions of displaced refugees as never before, and forcing many of them into situations – and locations - where they are at risk of spreading a host of infectious diseases. Our increasingly globalized economy and advances in air travel and commerce mean that diseases once confined to an isolated village can now spread worldwide in a matter of hours.
Mankind’s expansion into previously uncharted jungles and waters is helping spawn new and mutating viruses for which there is no antidote, including highly infectious zoonotic diseases once confined to animals that now threaten to kill potentially millions of people.
Public health officials around the world are furiously racing to get ahead of this gathering storm, and to understand these changes in ways that will allow them to avert what they fear is a looming catastrophe. And while they have won many hard-earned breakthroughs, some critics say they are not doing nearly enough.
Our team spent three months reporting in three countries in an effort to chronicle this high-stakes race, and some of the key players in it. Here are their stories.