Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of People,Parasites,and Politics

Federal Bodysnatchers and the New Guinea Virus: Tales of People,Parasites,and Politics

by Robert S. Desowitz
     
 
Twenty Years Ago The World Slept, confident that biomedical science would protect it from devastating plagues. Our wake-up call sounded at the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Then came other unfamiliar pathogens in its wake, among them the West Nile virus. Meanwhile, the neglected diseases of the third world, including malaria and African sleeping sickness, festered --

Overview

Twenty Years Ago The World Slept, confident that biomedical science would protect it from devastating plagues. Our wake-up call sounded at the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Then came other unfamiliar pathogens in its wake, among them the West Nile virus. Meanwhile, the neglected diseases of the third world, including malaria and African sleeping sickness, festered -- their victims salvageable only by unaffordable, patent-protected drugs. Robert S. Desowitz traces the histories of these diseases and the issues we must confront -- the morality and legality of patent laws covering biomedical "inventions," the effect of global warming on epidemics, the commercial relationships of publicly supported biomedical scientists and industry, and the growing dissociation of clinicians and public health professionals. The resolution of these issues, now under the terrifying shadow of bioterrorism, is essential for the well-being -- possibly even for the ultimate survival -- of the entire human species.

Editorial Reviews

The Los Angeles Times
In his fifth nonfiction narrative on tropical diseases, he does not conceal anger or bitterness about how the public health enterprise of modern medicine has lost its way in the struggle against infectious diseases. He is passionate and, at times, near despair describing how United Nations bureaucracies, the greed of pharmaceutical firms, patent laws and scientific arrogance hinder efforts to control these resurging plagues. — Robert Lee Hotz
Los Angeles Times
Like a novelist,[Desowitz] draws the reader into the human tragedy of disease.
Michiko Kakutani
Desowitz manages to make the basic principles of his subject immediately comprehensible to the general reader.
New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Another idiosyncratic jaunt through the world of tropical diseases from the author of Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria? (1997). Sometimes irascible, always erudite and entertaining, sensibly alert to the dangers posed by the microscopic world of pathogens, Desowitz has a way with words. The federal bodysnatchers referred to here turn out to be the NIH's Office of Technology Transfer, which took out a patent on a virus found in a Papua New Guinea tribesman, much to the author's dismay. That episode is but one chapter in this curmudgeonly work, which takes a look at how we have failed in the fight against malaria and sleeping sickness and examines our readiness to deal with the arrival of new infectious diseases on our own shores. While the search for a vaccine has been going on for decades, malaria still infects some 300 million and kills some 3 million annually, and while elflornithine (called the "wake-up-from-the-dead drug" in tropical Africa) is effective against sleeping sickness, it is also too expensive for poverty-stricken countries already overwhelmed by AIDS. Desowitz uses the blunders in our management of West Nile virus to point out the need for better-trained people, better labs, and increased funding for public health in the US. In a chapter titled "Loose Stools and Troubled Waters," he examines an outbreak of diarrhea that afflicted 403,000 midwesterners, the largest documented outbreak of a waterborne disease in the US. The Great 1992 Milwaukee Cryptosporidium Horror Show, as Desowitz calls it, revealed that current municipal water-treatment systems simply cannot remove feces-borne Cryptosporidium from the water supply-a problem likely to be exacerbated, he notes, asglobal warming brings increased rain and swollen rivers contaminated with sewage. Further medical challenges will arise as global warming turns temperate zones tropical, affecting a host of climate-influenced diseases, including cholera. Desowitz makes science scintillating, but his message is dead serious: It's not just bio-terrorists we need to be concerned about. (8 illustrations, not seen)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393051858
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
01/28/2002
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.38(h) x 1.06(d)

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