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New Left Review 102, November-December 2016

rob wallace & rodrick wallace


Agro-Economics and Epidemiology in West Africa

Disease epidemics are as much markers of modern civilization as they are threats to it. What successfully evolves and spreads depends on the matrix of barriers and opportunities that a given society presents to its circulating pathogens. For most of its history, for example, Vibrio cholerae lived off plankton in the Ganges delta. It was only after significant layers of the population had switched to an urban, sedentary lifestyle, and later had become increasingly integrated by nineteenth-century trade and transport systems, that the cholera bacterium evolved an explosive, human-specific ecotype. Simian immunodeficiency viruses emerged out of their non-human Catarrhini reservoirs in the form of hiv when colonial expropriation turned subsistence bushmeat and the urban sex trade into commodities on an industrial scale. Domesticated livestock has supplied a source for human diphtheria, influenza, measles, mumps, plague, pertussis, rotavirus A, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness and visceral leishmaniasis. Ecological changes wrought upon landscapes by human intervention have facilitated spillovers of malaria from birds, and of dengue and yellow fever from wild primates. The new pathogens adapted to improvements in medical technologies and public health, while innovations in agricultural and industrial methods accelerated demographic shifts and new settlement, concentrating potential host populations and thereby promoting new rounds of spillover.

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Rob Wallace, Rodrick Wallace, ‘Ebola’s Ecologies’, NLR 102: £3

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