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J Epidemiol Community Health. 2007 October; 61(10): 926.
PMCID: PMC2652973

Risky trade. Infectious disease in the era of global trade

Reviewed by Núria Torner

Ann Marie Kimball, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006, ISBN 0754642976

Infectious diseases have been a part of society for as long as humans have existed on earth and, of course, will continue to be with us for ever, but as society evolves so does the behaviour of these diseases. This book gives the reader a thorough insight into how our “modern” civilisation, with its so‐called globalisation trends, has upset the balance between natural barriers and infection spread. Despite mankind's desperate effort to control events, these “unseen travellers”, as Dr Kimball has aptly nicknamed infectious agents, can penetrate our defences and become a threat even to those unaware of their existence.

The main issues affecting global trade, such as financial interests, national sovereignty and lack of interdisciplinary cooperation in environmental and health security, are dealt with in a very comprehensive manner for those not so familiar with economic and international policy matters. In addition, microbiology, epidemiology and infectious pathology topics are presented in a technical but understandable way so that readers unfamiliar with medical subjects can achieve a widespread view of the challenges and the burden that control of infectious diseases (emerging and re‐emerging diseases) pose to nations.

Cooperation and interdisciplinary collaboration are strongly endorsed as the only way to achieve a timely and prompt response to international emergencies, whether they are caused by natural disasters, bioterrorism, epidemics or pandemics.

The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic, which spread rapidly but was controlled by means of a worldwide cooperative network, is held up as a model to adopt and improve upon. In contrast, the lack of awareness of the threat posed by the slow spread of HIV in the 1980s is an example of why we should be suspicious whenever mass production of a biological product is launched into the world market. With these two main lessons learned we should be capable of preventing future events of this kind.

According to the author, “The emergence of new human infections and the globalization of commerce are not threats, but realities that will mold the way the people of the world live their lives and conduct business in the decades to come.”

To tackle the challenge of emerging infections, private and public interests must have the same goals. A basic infrastructure, in terms of clean water and sanitation, public health surveillance and intervention for human and animal infectious diseases, must be promoted in those countries where it is not currently available. Transparency and sharing information on infectious diseases and product safety is a must if we are to create efficient partnerships that can ensure global safety.

In all, I found that the book raised interesting questions on infectious diseases and offered new insights into what future challenges may face mankind.


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