Dr. Peter Hotez, the preeminent virologist, microbiologist, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and distinguished professor at Baylor College of Medicine where he is the founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, recently posted a new article on the PLOS blog that cites marked improvements in the fight to eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) in developing countries, as well as new initiatives that still need to gain traction in the public sector in order to bolster these efforts.
In his article, Dr. Hotez outlines significant progress in fighting and diminishing the widespread damaging effects of NTDs such as guinea worm (dracunculiasis), river blindness (onchocerciasis), and sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) in over a dozen sub-Saharan African nations. These promising advancements in eliminating NTDs are the result of a concerted, geo-political effort of the part of governmental and health organization from first-world nations, such as Norway’s Health & Development International and the Georgia-based Mectizan Donation Program, the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and the CDC, as well as developing nations themselves, who are becoming increasingly more receptive to global aid to fight the spread of these deadly and debilitating diseases. For example, Togo’s Université de Lomé have worked closely with the above-mentioned organizations to make the country the “first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate lymphatic filariasis,” thanks to help from the likes of Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline who donated mass amounts of ivermectin and albendazole in a bid to neutralize the diseases.
The path toward eliminating NTDs that Dr. Peter Hotez has laid out over the path few years, which centers around the nexus of bringing together governmental and private entities in the developed world to help spearhead mass drug administration (MDA) initiatives, is beginning to be realized. He particularly notes that U.S. and U.K. initiatives have been particularly helpful, but that in order to gain maximum traction in the NTD fight, three things still need to happen: first, more developed countries need to get involved in fighting NTDs — even within their own countries:
“In a new paper in Foreign Policy I reported that two-thirds or more of many of the high prevalence NTDs actually occur in the group of 20 (G20) nations especially the BRICS countries and Indonesia, but even wealthy countries such as the United States and Australia have intense pockets of poverty and NTDs.”
BioNews Texas recently reported on Dr. Hotez’ exclusive comments regarding the rise of NTDs, such as tapeworm, in the southern portion of the United States, as well as his perspectives on the impact of Chagas disease in the U.S. — an issue that has largely passed under the radar in U.S. health news. His comment underscores how NTDs are not only an issue in developing countries, but the first world as well.
Second, Dr. Hotez is specifically looking to both the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) “to prioritize NTDs as an essential component of their activities and to address people living with HIV/AIDS who are co-infected with parasites,” citing the work that these two organizations did in Togo as a prime example of how leveraging funding and research assets can make a major difference in eradicating diseases like LF.
Third, Hotez argues that “we will need an expansion of public support for R&D on new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines.” Governmental support has been reliable in the fight against NTDs, but public support initiatives are important, since, as the public becomes more aware of the importance in addressing these issues, it shifts the political realities in such a ways that allows for more funding and support to flow to the areas of the world that need it most. Dr. Hotez as been particularly successful in raising public awareness, such as through his own writings in top publications such as the New York Times and Huffington Post, as well as his book, “Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases: The Neglected Tropical Diseases and Their Impact on Global Health and Development,” which is now available in its second edition and includes a foreword by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien.
Dr. Hotez concludes by stating that all of these channels for fights NTDs have to continue to run through the WHO, and that the WHO needs to remain consistently funded and given the necessary access to do its critical work in the world.
The crux of Dr. Peter Hotez’ work is that there is a kind of blindness to NTDs throughout the world. The fact that so many of these diseases have been ignored and untreated in the developing world is not so much a surprise, since the developed world tends to invest its resources internationally in health crises only when there is some kind of palpable return on investment — a seemingly cynical yet true reality. However, the rise in awareness of NTDs in even the most developed nations, such as the United States, will hopefully bring enough awareness to world governing bodies and the public at large to help increase funding and efforts to stamp out NTDs in the near future.
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