A Red Cross official has sharply criticized "complacency" towards the impact of communicable diseases on poor countries, contrasting it with responses to flu or heart disease in rich nations.
A report released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Monday warned that the crippling and growing burden of epidemics like dengue fever, polio, or meningitis was not being sufficiently addressed.
Advertisement"We do not see interest, we only see vague, uncoordinated interest in high-profile issues such as influenza, which is in itself a great risk, but not the only one," said Tammam Aloudat, the federation's senior officer for health in emergencies.
Swine flu has "killed so far about 150 people, the potential for risk is massive, but what we have today is 14 million people dying mostly unnecessarily from easily preventable diseases that require little resources," he told journalists.
Titled "The Epidemic Divide", the Red Cross report said a focus on death rates had helped increase attention and resources to tackle non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks and cancers, now the leading killers worldwide.
But the dominant threat in developing countries remains preventable infectious disease, and their societies were not only ailing due the huge mortality but also the debilitating impact of illness on their development.
Resources to deal with such existing epidemics remained "scarce", the report added.
Out of the limelight, mosquito-borne dengue fever kills 18,000 people a year and sickens nine million people annually, keeping them away from work and amplifying the failings of under-resourced health care, the Red Cross said.
The report said "complacency" towards existing epidemics was "a major threat in itself".
It highlighted the resurgence of measles in Europe to underline that Western nations were not immune, especially with easy international travel.
Asked about the World Health Organization's role in setting international priorities and raising attention, Aloudat said: "The global public health community could have done better, including ourselves."
"I am saying that there are shortcomings on all sides... Unless all those people sit together and decide the agenda we are not going to win this one."
He also highlighted a shortfall in meeting UN development goals, which include health targets.
"Complacency happens when goals are set and resources aren't allocated," the Federation doctor said.
A WHO-led immunization campaign in the 1990s eliminated polio from more than 120 countries, but failed in its target to eradicate the lethal or crippling disease entirely by 2005.
Since then polio has re-emerged across Africa after donors lost momentum, routine immunization dropped off and local obstacles emerged, according to the report.
The Federation recently sought just 2.4 million dollars for 80 million polio vaccines but has received less than half that funding.
Meningitis, which often surges to epidemic proportions in Africa, kills half of the people infected, while neglected emerging and re-emerging diseases affect about one-sixth of the world's population, mainly in poor countries.
The report advocated more resources, immunization, community prevention, better access to health services, clean water and sanitation in poor nations.
"What we are saying is: if we are going to be serious, it's not influenza alone, it's not any issue alone, it's a whole connected subject," Aloudat explained.
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