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History of Diseases in the Caribbean Dieases and Effect upon Development

Diseases have negatively effected development around the world, decimating populations and causing civilizations to collapse as well as weakening the work force. Disease raises cost and expenses. The Caribbean region is no different and the negative impacts are still being felt today of several different diseases.

Historically the Europeans started settling the Caribbean region in the 1500 through the 1600’s and encountered the indigenous people. The people in the Americas had been separated from “the home continent” for thousands of years; they had left behind most of the diseases. Europeans arranged an introduction. Small pox, chicken pox, mumps and measles all claimed their toll. Thus, according to many historians 70% of the Amerindians were not killed by gunpowder, but by micro-organisms!

This death by disease made it easier to colonize the Caribbean; it removed the immediate labour force needed by the Europeans, local people! Development was hampered until they got the idea of indentured servants. Unfortunately the servants were not treated well and often worked to death before being freed. Slavery was the answer. The African people were resistant to all the diseases, use to being in the tropics, and owned rather than “rented”. Diseases were partly responsible for slavery in the Caribbean.

In early times, the smaller Caribbean Islands were free of many illnesses, but this was not true of Central American countries that border the Caribbean Sea. There mosquitoes spread murder and mayhem through malaria and Dengue. An estimated 12,000 workers died in building a Panama Railway and a further 22,000 in an early attempt to build a canal. It was only with the conquering of these diseases that development of those areas became feasible.

Malaria is now controlled using medication, but Dengue, also known as yellow fever, is still affecting Caribbean Development today, decreasing tourism in many countries. AIDS is also a concern and the fear of these two diseases deflects funds that could be better used for the Caribbean people. Are there other diseases that negatively impact Caribbean Development?

Central America and Mexico both suffer from a type of E. coli that infects the intestinal tract and causes massive diarrheal. In children it can cause dehydration and death, with tourists it can result in a bad experience!

Not many other diseases of humans are found in the Caribbean, outside of places such as Haiti, and most of those could be treated if the social unrest and poverty is corrected, but there are other things than humans that get disease. Those other things, which include animals and plants, can impact development. These diseases, such as Dermatophilosis in cattle and Lethal Yellowing in palms causes a dependency for food, and dependencies are negative for development of anywhere!

Diseases have altered and negatively impacted development of the Caribbean for centuries; they continue to negatively impact it today. Will disease be a problem in the future? Always, until it is completely eradicated, and that isn’t in the foreseeable future!