Infectious disease spread fueled by international trade

Exposure is just a plane ride away, says ASU researcher

December 22, 2015

International trade and travel has literally opened up new vistas for humans, ranging from travel to exotic places to enjoying the products and services of those distant lands. But according to an ASU researcher, along with international trade and travel comes the risk of spreading infectious diseases, a growing problem in today’s global economy.

“The recent Ebola outbreak made us realize that we are all just a plane ride away from exposure to emerging infectious diseases,” said Charles Perrings, an ASU professor of environmental economics in the School of Life Sciences. Perrings recently published the paper, “Options for Managing the Infectious Animal and Plant Disease Risks of International Trade,” in the early online version of the journal Food Security. plane flying in air According to an ASU researcher, along with international trade and travel comes the risk of spreading infectious diseases, a growing problem in today’s global economy. “The recent Ebola outbreak made us realize that we are all just a plane ride away from exposure to emerging infectious diseases,” said Charles Perrings, an ASU professor of environmental economics. Download Full Image

The paper reported project results to an international conference, “Global Plant Health Risks and Consequences: Linking Science, Economics and Policy,” hosted by the British Food and Environment Research Agency and supported by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Cooperative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Perrings is the principle investigator of a project funded by the National Science Foundation-National Institutes of Health-U.S. Department of Agriculture Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases program in collaboration with the U.K.’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

In the paper, Perrings describes the growth of international trade since the 1950s and the increasingly tight coupling of developed and developing economies. The paper considers how the global community currently deals with trade-related infectious disease risks of animals and plants, and asks how the system could be made more effective.

An example of the impact of an infectious disease came in 2001 in the UK when an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease cost some $10 billion and more than 2 million sheep and cattle had to be destroyed, Perrings said. More recently, African swine fever — a much more serious disease of pigs — has been spread in the Caucasus region through trade in pork, pork product or through waste in trade vehicles.

“The more trade grows as a proportion of global production, the more likely it is that diseases will be spread through trade, and the higher the economic cost of resulting trade bans,” said Perrings, who is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “What is at risk is the food we eat, the fibers we wear and build with, and the fuels we burn.” 

“In addition, many infectious diseases that affect animals also affect people,” he said. “Zoonoses like SARS, MERS, HIV/AIDS or highly pathogenic avian influenza all originated in wild animals and were then spread person to person through trade and travel.” 

Perrings said current instruments to control infectious diseases are far from adequate, as the recent report of the Harvard-London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola, published in the Lancet, makes clear.

“There are two problems to address,” he said. “One is that disease spread is an unintended (external) effect of trade. To solve this problem, exporters and importers need to be confronted with the risks they impose on consumers.

“The other is that the control of infectious disease is a public good — the benefits it offers are freely available to all, and so will be undersupplied if left to the market,” he said. “To solve this problem we need to undertake cooperative, collective control of infectious diseases at the source.”

Perrings said options for solving both problems include the use of payments for risk reduction in developing countries and the development of a global fund for infectious disease control.

At the moment countries have the right (through the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement) to act in their own defense once a disease has been introduced. Their options are to control the outbreak and to reduce the chance of reinfection by banning trade with risky countries or in risky products. But this cannot stop the emergence of new diseases.

“The One Health Initiative suggests that what is needed is cooperative collective action to reduce risk at the source,” Perrings said. “This requires a partnership between the rich countries that have the resources to fund global prevention, and the poor countries where disease is most likely to emerge.”

“The management of infectious diseases of animals and plants, like the management of infectious diseases of people, is now a global problem that requires global solutions,” Perrings wrote. “This in turn requires a more strongly coordinated and cooperative approach than is currently allowed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement.”

The School of Life Sciences is a unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Making the human connection at Spontaneous Service Saturdays

ASU Project Humanities initiative helps Phoenix homeless year-round.
One day of service turns into year-round endeavor for ASU students.
December 22, 2015

Project Humanities initiative gives ASU students, Phoenix residents chance to engage with community

The sun is just beginning to rise, but it’s still dark enough that the street lights on South 12th Avenue in downtown Phoenix remain lit from the night before.

Arizona State University senior religious studies major Johnny Martin has his hood pulled over his cap and his hands dug deep in his pockets as he chats with freshman psychology major Samantha Hill during a brief break from unloading boxes and bags full of donated items.

The desert air is brisk on this early December morning, but that hasn’t stopped Martin, Hill and others from making their bi-monthly visit to the area outside of Central Arizona Shelter Services, where they help to sort and distribute gently used clothes, shoes and other essentials to the homeless population of Phoenix.

Now an official ASU Project Humanities volunteer initiative known as Spontaneous Service Saturdays, the visits take place year-round, every other Saturday from 6:45 to 8 a.m. They began as a spontaneous day of service at the behest of Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English and director of Project Humanities.

After initially volunteering as part of a men’s group at his church, Lester said, “I saw the need to continue, so did, and began recruiting ASU students and others to join me.”

Meanwhile, Martin — who had previously worked with Lester and Project Humanities as an event coordinator — had been busy founding the ASU student group Sun Devils Are Better Together (SunDABT), the university’s first and only interfaith student organization.

“We bring people from different religious and non-religious identities together to voice their values and beliefs, engage across lines of difference, and act together to improve the community based on shared values within different traditions,” Martin said.

But taking action to improve one’s community is often easier said than done. Luckily, Martin had stayed in touch with Lester and others he knew from his time at Project Humanities. So when SunDABT began looking for ways to engage with the community, Martin arranged for them to participate in the Spontaneous Service Saturdays.

“Our mission and vision are so aligned with Project Humanities that it’s very easy for us to find numerous possibilities to collaborate,” Martin said.

SunDABT group members arranged clothing drives and carpools, and watched as participation grew.

Anthropology junior and vice president of SunDABT Aspyn Adams attests, “First it was just three of us that went. Then it kept expanding each time we went with our own volunteers.”

At last count, Martin reported roughly 50 volunteers recruited by SunDABT. But it wasn’t just ASU students who were contributing to the day of service efforts.

"[The homeless] are real people equally deserving of dignity and respect, and they each have a story."
— ASU religious studies major Johnny Martin

“We have groups, families, student groups, couples, high school students and others coming out to help. We even have donations coming from Flagstaff, Pakistan, Rhode Island and New York,” Lester said.

“A particularly magical moment occurred when a mom of small children in Gilbert, Arizona, saw our story in Raising Arizona Kids and coordinated a shoe drive in support of our effort — gathering some 460 pairs of shoes! That was pretty special.”

Besides providing the city’s homeless with much-needed items, Spontaneous Service Saturdays also gives volunteers the opportunity to interact with them.

“It really humanizes them,” Martin said. “They are real people equally deserving of dignity and respect, and they each have a story.”

Adams recalls one woman in particular who was “so happy just to have a dress, and to look for things she can go to a job interview in.

“Being able to give them that basic human right of being treated with respect is the reason why I love doing community service,” Adams said.

For more information, to participate or to assist with Spontaneous Service Saturdays donations, visit the initiative’s website.