Archive for April, 2010

Hookworm: Helpful or Harmful?

April 30th, 2010

Hookworm affects more than 576 million people across the globe and contributes to an estimated 43 percent reduction in future wage earnings in areas where infected individuals reside. Despite hookworm’s many negative attributes, I recently came across an article that I wanted to explore further to figure out why individuals are purposefully infecting themselves with hookworm to fight allergies.

For some reason, when an individual who suffers from severe allergies infects themselves with hookworm, their allergies seem to go away. And, surprisingly, there is a scientific basis for this. Studies have shown that individuals with hookworm infections are 50% less likely to suffer from allergies. However, these studies tend to gloss over one very important point: hookworm is a dangerous parasite with severe side-effects.

How does hookworm bring about allergy relief? When the hookworm attaches to the human intestinal wall, the immune system begins to attack the parasite. The hookworm has developed a response, using some unknown chemical that suppresses the immune system. Allergies are caused by an overactive immune system, so suppressing the immune system alleviates allergies. But, keep in mind that this same immune system allows the human body to fight off diseases, and suppressing it makes you more susceptible to illness.

Some articles reporting on this hookworm allergy link make hookworm sound like a benign or symbiotic creature. A recent report on hookworm and allergies from Radiolab, a production of WNYC, stated, “You got to a point where the hookworm can survive safely, the worm gets a home, there’s food coming down the food pipe, and in return the human immune system gains some… form of regulatory advantage.” If only that was all hookworm did.

Hookworm feeds upon human blood, causing internal bleeding, loss of iron, anemia, malnutrition, fatigue, weakness, and, in extreme cases, even death. They cause abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and can even block the intestinal tract, causing major health problems. Women in particular are at greater risk for anemia and, should they be pregnant, are at greater risk for low birth weight, complications in the pregnancy, and are three and a half times more likely to die in childbirth. Infecting yourself with hookworm to stop allergies is taking huge risks with your health, especially given the lack of oversight or regulation of using hookworm to treat allergies.

That being said, there is undeniably potential for treating allergies via hookworm, just not in hookworms themselves. To quote Dr. Peter Hotez, parasitologist and President of Sabin Vaccine Institute, “In its current form, I think this therapy is too risky… The real question is could you isolate the molecules the worms are using to suppress the immune system and use them for therapeutic purposes? This is where the real potential lies. If we can determine what chemical is used by hookworm, isolate it, and re-create it in doses that can be safely administered, then we will have a real solution to allergies without the significant risks that come with the hookworm. But until then, self-infection with hookworm for therapeutic purposes is not the way to go.

Reading List 4/29/2010

April 29th, 2010

Today were reading about the burden of worms worldwide, efforts to control filariasis in India, a wrap-up of NTD news from this month, and about efforts to fight malaria in Nigeria.

The Worms That Rule the World, Caitlin Cohen, Global Poverty @ Six-year aggressive drive helped get a grip over carriers, Umesh Isalkar, Times of India A Wider View, Paul Chinnock, Malaria remains a moving target, Vanguard

Money Spent on Nuclear Weapons could Eliminate NTDs at a Fraction of the Cost, says Editorial

April 28th, 2010

Currently there are eight acknowledged nuclear power states (America, Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) with more, (Israel, Iran, and Syria), believed to have nuclear programs. But what if those powers took some of the immense amounts of money they put into their nuclear programs and instead used it for treating NTDs? That question is the basis of a new editorial in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Disease by Dr. Peter Hotez.

Dr. Hotez estimates that, since the Manhattan Project, “the 11 nuclear weapons states together have invested at least 10 trillion dollars on weapons production and maintenance” while “the costs for both neglected disease control and R and D comes close to a billion dollars, or roughly less than 1/10,000th of the estimated 10 trillion dollars committed for nuclear weapons.” All of these nations, with the possible exception of Great Britain have a significant NTD burden.

Investments in nuclear weaponry are carried out under the auspice of deterring war and thus promoting peace, says Hotez, but these and additional benefits can be achieved through neglected disease funding. Increased investments in neglected disease research could control or eliminate neglected infections, support achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, stabilize and build nations, and reduce civil strife and international tensions.

To read the full text of the editorial, click here.

The Forgotten Sick

April 27th, 2010

David Molyneux, former Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and a founding partner of the Global Network, has written a commentary piece arguing for NTD treatment. The piece clearly summarizes the state of NTDs, why they need to be treated, and the hope for the future. Click here to give it a read.

Reducing Malaria Deaths To Zero By 2015 is Attainable

April 26th, 2010

by: Rep. John Boozman, R-AR, 3rd District

Every day, we are able to sit in our backyards without having to worry about whether the mosquito that bit us is infected with Malaria. However, for millions of Africans, that is a dream. We are working hard to make that dream a reality.

Malaria is a parasitic disease that causes more than one million deaths each year. Each day, nearly 3,000 African children die as a result of Malaria. That is about one child every 30 seconds. In fact, by the time you finish reading this, another child will have died from Malaria. This is an astonishing and inexcusable statistic, especially considering the fact that Malaria is preventable and treatment costs only a few dollars.

As Chairman and Member of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, I have made several trips to Africa and seen the devastating affects of Malaria on the poor and the young. With the advancements we have made in medicine, there is no reason for Malaria to infect millions of people in 106 countries. Even so, the impact of the disease on health care budgets and economies in Africa is staggering. In fact, health officials in Africa spend 40 percent of their health care budgets on Malaria in hopes of educating, preventing, and treating the disease. In addition, the 250 million people who become sick and suffer from symptoms, such as fever and headache, are not able to work or go to school. As a result, healthy family members are forced to leave work to care for their ill relatives and more than $12 billion in productivity and resources are lost.

Preventative measures, such as spraying homes with insecticide and sleeping under insecticide-treated nets, are cost-effective ways to reduce the transmission of Malaria. We have seen the success of these measures both in Ethiopia and Zanzibar. In Ethiopia, cases of Malaria fell 60 percent and deaths decreased by 51 percent in two years time. In Zanzibar, Malaria in school children was reduced from 60 percent to about one percent. These are excellent results, and we must to use this momentum to build on our progress.

Members of Congress are taking steps, like organizing the Congressional Malaria Caucus, in hopes of raising awareness on this issue in the international community. In addition, non-governmental organizations and foundations, such as United Against Malaria, are taking advantage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by teaming up with soccer stars and celebrities to help fight this disease. If we continue our work and do not lose focus, our goal of reducing the number of deaths resulting from the disease to zero by 2015 is attainable.

We all must recognize our role in the battle against Malaria, and we must work to stop this tragedy from continuing. I am confident that Members of Congress, organizations, and people around the globe will answer the call and commit to saving lives.  

Congressman John Boozman, is in his fifth term representing the Third District of Arkansas in the United States House of Representatives. Rep. Boozman is a co-chair of the Congressional Malaria Caucus, which has served as a bipartisan platform to raise awareness of the United States and the international communitys fight against the malaria epidemic and now NTDs. It supports the distribution of vital malaria interventions including bed nets and effective medications, new research investments, and the funding of bi- and multi-lateral programs including the Presidents Malaria Initiative, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It also supports investment in control and elimination strategies of the seven most common NTDs and research and development to tackle the other non-tool-ready diseases. There are currently 60 members of the Caucus.

Students Inspire at Clinton Global Initiative University Meeting

April 23rd, 2010

The Global Network spent last weekend surrounded by inspiring students making real commitments to change their communities and the world around them. The 3rd Annual Clinton Global Initiative University meeting, held in Miami, brought more than 1500 students, national youth organizations, and university officials together to discuss solutions to pressing global issues. In the Opening Plenary Session, President Clinton highlighted commitments from some of last years student rock stars, including Sam Adelsburg, Founder of, a micro finance initiative for the Middle East, and Robyn Allen, an MIT student who founded the Vehicle Design Summit, a student-led program working to contribute a new mode for education, innovation and inspiration through transportation design. The discussion was followed by a panel on igniting the social imagination which featured leaders from the government, academic, and non-profit sectors.

Global Network team member Erin Finucane at CGI-U

Global Network team member Erin Finucane at CGI-U

I had the good fortune to be invited to participate as a public health facilitator where I led student table discussions around advocacy and media. After a training that went late into the evening on Friday, we got started bright and early Saturday morning. What impressed me most about the table discussions was the commitment and passion of all of the student participants who not only had brilliant ideas, but the dedication to follow them through. Selfishly, it was also inspiring to hear a number of students connect their projects (varying around peace, water and sanitation, and other global issues) to the control and elimination of NTDs. Id be remiss if I neglected to mention that one of my favorite moments was when a Stanford student ran up to me and said, I love parasites!

CGI-U brought students together from over 70 countries and all 50 states and I am confident that their impact will reach even further. More than anything, last weekend reinforced for me the critical role that students play in advocacy work. Whether addressing NTDs or other international crises, the future of these critical issues is in their hands. Thankfully, the solutions are, as well.

Sabin and UC Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Sabin Sunday

April 23rd, 2010

Picture 058

Tomorrow, April 24, 2010, marks the 50th anniversary of Sabin Sunday—a campaign to vaccinate Cincinnati-area children with the world’s first oral live-virus polio vaccine. The successful campaign led to the oral live-virus polio vaccine’s licensure and distribution in the United States, and the eradication of polio from the Americas and most of the world. 

Dr. Albert B. Sabin developed the vaccine as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine and a member of the research staff at Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation. Ms. Heloisa Sabin, widow of the late Dr. Sabin; and Philip Russell, Sabin Founding President and current trustee, will be on hand at the UC Medical Campus this afternoon to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sabin Sunday.

The Sabin Vaccine Institute is founded on the legacy and global vision of Dr. Sabin who not only dedicated his entire professional career to the elimination of human suffering though his groundbreaking medical advances, but also waged a tireless campaign against poverty and ignorance throughout his lifetime.

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    • The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is a major advocacy and resource mobilization initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)--a group of disabling, disfiguring, and deadly diseases affecting more than 1.4 billion people worldwide living on less than $1.25 a day.
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