Which Came First: Infectious Diseases or Poverty? (PLoS Biology)
Editorial Synopsis in PloS Biology of our article
A paper published in this issue of PLOS Biology by an interdisciplinary team of ecologists and economists led by Matthew Bonds, who has PhDs in both ecology and economics, makes a substantial advance in understanding the interplay between infectious diseases and economic prosperity. It does so by applying a form of structural equation modeling, which allows several different pathways of causality to be examined simultaneously, to disentangle the relative importance of each. The team jointly examined World Bank data on the per capita income of people from 139 countries and the burden of some of the most globally important parasitic and vector-borne diseases, measured as the per capita years of life lost due to mortality and the weighted equivalent of years lost due to morbidity. While biologists have often borrowed ideas from economics (e.g., game theory), the study by Bonds and colleagues turns the table and shows the utility of ecological ideas for understanding economic systems. This study provides a compelling case for both the role of infectious diseases in driving economies, and the health benefits of biodiversity conservation, both are of direct relevance to national and global economic prosperity.