A reflection of health inequity in recent epidemics

Exclusively written for the Sting by Miss Charlene Chau, student and global health enthusiast, eager to exchange solutions on global health issues and health policies. Miss Chau is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA).

Charlene Chau IFMSA

Miss Charlene Chau is a medical student member of IFMSA

Ebola, the cause of human and primate hemorrhages; polio, the root of flaccid paralysis; Zika, the hypothesised culprit of microcephaly in babies, all seem to catch newspaper headlines in recent years. Besides this, these three diseases all bear similarities in terms of the type of disease, location and the international response: Firstly, they are all zoonotic; secondly, they first broke out in developing countries, with high fatality rates, but when developed countries were affected, there were rarely any confirmed deaths; lastly, they were all declared as a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Yet, these seeming congruences beg a question: Is it truly a coincidence, or does it point to an underlying problem?

Looking at the statistics of countries being affected the most would one be able to elucidate the answer. The countries which the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention classified with “widespread transmission” of Ebola include Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have HDI rank of 175, 179 and 183 respectively among 187 countries in 2014 (the year of the pandemic). For polio, the strain was found recently in a sewage in southern India, a country ranked 130th in the 2015 HDI. As for Zika, 1.3 million infections were confirmed in Brazil in 2015. Despite Brazil being positioned 75th out of 188 countries,infant mortality rates remain high compared to international standards. With low ratio of doctors to people, poor road and transportation systems that delayed the transportation of personal protection equipment, observed in the Ebola crisis; with the scarcity of supplies, such as clean running water (which facilitates transmission of polioviruses) and stable electricity (essential to maintain the potency of the polio vaccines during delivery); with the limited knowledge on diagnosis and surveillance due to the paucity of resources in Brazil, it is understandable why the WHO referred to these viruses as “deadly pathogens exploit(ing) weak health systems.” The pandemics, particularly the Ebola and Zika crises, were also consequences of the feeble responses of profitdriven research and pharmaceutical companies, as well as the sluggish responses of the WHO in detection and response to these outbreaks.

After the Ebola crisis, a report in the Lancet recorded the criticisms of experts towards the WHO, that there was a lack of “highlevel political leadership or reliable and rapid institutional responses”. Whilst major reforms of the WHO’s response to epidemics must be strengthened, the spotlight should not merely be on them, evident from the fact that Zika still broke out despite the quick WHO response. If the global healthcare is likened to an edifice, the WHO is only the cement, but the individual healthcare systems are the building blocks. The WHO holds the huge responsibility of coordinating and responding, but more focus should be on those building blocks instead, building a competent, responsive health workforce, forming an adequate health financing system, and strengthening the leadership and governance. These should no longer be the privileges of the developed countries, but an entitlement to everyone.


  1. 2014 Ebola Outbreak In West Africa Outbreak Distribution Map | Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever | CDC “. CdcÆgov†. N. p., 2016. Web. 22 June 2016.
  2.  Human†Development†Report†2014†. Print.
  3. India To Vaccinate 300,000 Children After Polio Strain Found In Sewage”. Scientific†American†. N. p., 2016. Web. 22 June 2016.
  4. UNDP. Human†Development†Report†2015†. Print.
  5. An Indictment Of Ebola Response”. Harvard†Gazette†. N. p., 2015. Web. 22 June 2016.

About the author

A student and a global health enthusiast, eager to exchange solutions on global health issues and health policies. Was previously awarded Highly Commended in the Cambridge Newnham Essay Competition on the “Factors leading to the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa”.



















Featured Stings

Why and how Germany had it again its own way in Cyprus

Will the three major parties retain control of the new EU Parliament?

Eurozone examines the prospect of issuing debt paper jointly

Bankers don’t go to jail because they are more equal than us all

China dazzles the world with her Silk Road plan to connect, Asia, Europe and Africa

How can consumers be effectively protected from insurance sellers?

Elections in Europe: No risks for the EU, leaders readying to face Trump-Brexit

Presidents of pan-European youth organisations call upon the European Council to preserve the Schengen principles

Putin becomes the ‘perfect enemy” for the West

ECB reaches the boundaries of its mandate to revive the entirety of Eurozone

Trump’s Syrian hit the softest option vis-a-vis Russia

Love Affair with Some(one)/(thing)

Inegalitarian taxation on labour haunts Europe’s social model

EU Parliament and Council: Close to agreement on the bank resolution mechanism

“Hasta la vista” Google says to Spain and now Europe is next?

Greece @ MWC14: Greek-born mobile champions at MWC 2014

Global Citizen – Volunteer Internships

Dreaming of China

European Investment Bank to borrow €70 billion in 2013

The implications of Brexit on European business, youth entrepreneurship and junior enterprises.

Inflation not a problem for Europe

The Chinese spirit

Greener economies and investment to reduce unemployment and increase global growth

Catalan Pro-Independence vote: how many hits can Brussels sustain at the same time?

EU Parliament: Follow the fraudulent money and confiscate it

Changing the EU copyright law won’t bring us much closer to Digital Single Market

“None of our member states has the dimension to compete with China and the US, not even Germany!”, Head of EUREKA Pedro Nunes on another Sting Exclusive

Charlie’s tragedy energized deeper feelings amongst Europeans; back to basics?

Inflation keeps falling in Eurozone

Draghi drafts a plan to donate more money to bankers, the era of ‘money for nothin’ is flourishing

Managing and resolving conflicts in a politically inclined group of team members

World Health Organisation and medical students: is there any room for improvement?

EU’s new environmental policy on biofuels impacts both the environment and the European citizen

A new way to teach active citizenship to students?

The European Youth Forum needs better signal for its “call” for Quality Internships

Draghi proposes timeframe for full Banking Union in five years

Volkswagen getting away with it in Europe

Italian voters put again the European Peoples in the Brussels picture

New skills agenda for Europe needs real investment

Deutsche Bank: the next financial crisis is here and the lenders need €150 billion from taxpayers

What has changed in the French politico-economic horizon

Who is to lose from the 6-month extension of the EU economic sanctions against Russia?

Yanis Varoufakis in a Sting Exclusive: “Unsustainable debt turns the creditor into Leviathan; Life under it is becoming nasty, brutish and short”

Mental health of health professionals: the alter ego

Statement by Cecilia Malmström, Member of the EC in charge of Trade, on the successful conclusion of the final discussions on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) – Brussels, 08 Dec 2017. (Copyright: European Union; Source: EC - Audiovisual Service; Photo: Georges Boulougouris)

The EU and Japan seal free trade pact that will cover 30% of global GDP

EU imposes provisional anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar panels

10 months were not enough for the EU to save the environment but 2 days are

Is Erdogan losing game and match within and without Turkey?

Berlin cannot dictate anymore the terms for the enactment of the European Banking Union

Draghi will not hesitate to zero ECB’s basic interest rate

China invites the EU to a joint endeavor for free trade and order in the world

COP21 Breaking News: “There is an ecological debt that the world needs to pay back to Africa”, French President Francois Hollande promises 2 Billion euros by 2020 from Paris

GSMA head urges regulators to help Europe regain leadership

Copyright: European Union , 2017; Source: EC - Audiovisual Service; Photo: Frank Molter

EU hits deadlock on the future of glyphosate a month before deadline

EU’s new sanctions on Russia into force “in the next few days”: strength, weakness or strategy?

CDU-SPD agree the terms for EU’s Banking Union

A Sting Exclusive: “Digital and mobile technologies are helping to achieve an economic success in Spain”, the Spanish Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Information Society Víctor Calvo-Sotelo reveals to the Sting at Mobile World Congress 2015

South Eurozone countries threatened by rising borrowing cost and expensive euro

Refugee crisis update: EU lacks solidarity as migration figures drop

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s