There are a rapidly growing number of opportunities in the STEM fields on a relatively old frontier: the spread of diseases.
Conditions surrounding the developing world play a key role in creating this situation. One of these factors is that many countries that are generally accepted as “developing” exist in relatively warm and specifically tropical climates. Additionally, these countries often have high birth rates, which lead to growing populations and urbanization. These high birth rates are arguably an economic symptom of development1. This confluence of factors in these hot climates produces cities with swelling populations and low standards of living.
Some people move into cities to find opportunity. In these developing countries, people live in close quarters and have children, while often having little access or recourses for high quality health care. Under these conditions, the global community must face the spread of infectious diseases.23
Recently, we saw this with the breakout and spread of the Ebola virus in western Africa and we are witnessing this again in South and Central America with the Zika virus. The outbreak brings new challenges to multiple areas of the science community. The Zika virus is thought to be spread by both mosquitos and via sexual contact, which makes it both an environmental issue and a medical issue. On the environmental science front, global climate change is significant because more parts of the world are becoming habitable for Zika-carrying mosquitoes. On the medical side, women without access to birth control are catching the virus and passing it on to their babies, causing birth defects.6 This one headline topic of the Zika virus illustrates the convergence of environmental science, and medicine/healthcare.
The environment is changing and viruses are mutating. We need to provide better healthcare in more places, establish new ways of treating and stopping the spread of disease, practice effective and responsible pest-control, and become sustainable as a global community. Therefore, there is a huge need for careers in environmental science and medicine, and people in those fields will have the opportunity to make an impact on humans all over the world.
Image Source: By Manuel Almagro Rivas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons