Is World Health Day getting smaller this year?

As a matter of fact it is, as well it should be. World Health Day (April 7) is focusing on vector borne diseases this year; though a vector –an agent that carries and spreads an infectious disease- can be a person or microorganism, the main source of disease vectors are arthropods such as mosquitoes, flies, ticks, lice, and fleas. These seemingly harmless insects are generally considered a minor annoyance that can be smitten with the flick of a finger; however, they can stealthily infect you with diseases like chikungunya, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, dengue, human African trypanosomiasis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, lymphatic filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, yellow fever, and Chagas disease.

These may seem like some third world-sounding diseases to you, but they are very familiar to the people who live in the countries where they run rampant. The fact is that 50% of the world’s population is at risk of vector borne diseases. But it’s not Half-World Health Day, is it? Especially when these diseases can easily be introduced into our precious first world countries through a human vector; a simple tourist who did not take the most basic of measures to prevent contagion when traveling abroad. That’s why the World Health Organization has devised a printable World Health boarding pass which includes several recommendations like getting vaccinated against yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, using insect repellent, sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net, wearing light-colored long sleeve shirts and trousers, installing window screens, and eliminating stagnant water from places where mosquitoes breed.

Despite the fact that vector borne diseases are easily preventable, over 1 billion people still get infected every year, a million of which die as a result, particularly in poor, underdeveloped countries.  Why is it so? Perhaps we got complacent; after all, by the 1960’s vector borne diseases were not deemed a major public health concern, thanks in no small part to the advent of synthetic insecticides two decades prior. Nevertheless, these diseases have either re-emerged or spread to new parts of the world in the past 20 years. It’s very important to realize that these infectious diseases are not other people’s (or county’s) problem but a worldwide problem. Maybe your place of life is disease-free; if so, what better reason to strive to keep it that way?

Those are some of the reasons that the WHO will devote this year’s World Health Day to vector borne diseases, exemplified by the slogan ‘Small bite: Big threat.’ Vector agents are the real-life version of cinema zombies and vampires; one single bite is enough to contaminate you. Thus, if you happen to be at London’s Heathrow Airport or Washington DC’s Dulles airport on April, feel free to ignore the Hare Krishnas and Movementarians, but please don’t pass up on the WHO staff who will be advising travelers on vector borne disease protection while overseas.

Even if you’re not passing through those two airports on that day, there is still much everyone can do get involved, regardless of where you are. Anyone in the world can talk to a local doctor or contact a local healthcare department to discuss how vector borne diseases threaten you and your family at home and abroad. You can also join a local activity or even organize one. Professional from several fields can contribute as well. Health ministries can organize meetings and distribute information; journalists can write pertinent articles, interview experts, and profile individuals who have been affected; and community leaders can host discussion groups. In a world that’s becoming increasingly connected it’s fitting that there is one day where we can become truly unified against a common threat. 

[VIDEO] World Health Day 2014: small bite, big threat