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Population shifts to compound problem
In coming years, infectious diseases will join forces with demographic changes and begin transforming the concept of foreign policy, creating a new set of transnational issues that will threaten economic and political stability, says a policy analyst who studies demographic trends.
According to Steve Durand, senior policy expert at the Population Resource Center, the players on the new global stage won’t be just national governments, but will include the pharmaceutical industry and major philanthropists. The Population Resource Center is a 20-year-old Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization that works to disseminate findings from the scientific and research communities to policy-makers.
In Durand’s scenario, population growth is one of the engines driving the change. "Within the next 12 to 13 years, the world will add another billion to the population," Durand says. "Ninety-five percent of the growth will take place in the developing world, and there will be huge migrations into urban areas." The result is that half the population will be located in cities in the developing world — cities in which infrastructures will be overwhelmed, where there will inadequate sewer systems or safe water, and where infectious disease will abound. Factor in trends in antibiotic resistance, and you begin to see the scope of the problem, Durand adds.
Gates Foundation commissions talks
A report issued last June by the Office of Global Affairs at the Central Intelligence Agency reaches many of the same conclusions, he says. "They talk about [these trends] in terms of their impact on national security," he says. "You can see why, looking at the impact of AIDS on Africa, where the epidemic is creating enormous economic instability."
Transnational issues such as infectious disease were the topic at a conference last month in Maine, held in conjunction with that state’s chapter of the United Nations Association.
In attendance were about 150 health care providers. That’s not business as usual for the Population Resource Center, Durand adds, because his audience usually consists of members of Congress and other policy-makers. The recent conference is one in a series commissioned by the Gates Foundation, which asked the center to stage a series of talks in a civic, not political, setting, on the subject of health, the environment, and demographics.
The center specializes in a variety of issues related to demographics, Durand says, including family planning, infectious diseases, aging, and environmental concerns such as urban sprawl.
"What we often do is take a 50-page paper and turn it into something digestible," says Durand. "There’s a ton of information out there, but in truth, no politician or staff member has the time to read it all."