All posts by Amy Alabaster

About Amy Alabaster

Amy is a communications intern for the Global Network and the Sabin Vaccine Institute. Before joining Sabin, Amy worked as a writer for the NIH Research Matters publication and as an NIH Fellow for the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research. She has an M.S. degree in biochemistry from the University of Arizona.

NTDs in the Heart of Darkness



Flick user Julien Harneis/ CC

We often hear about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the news. The country has suffered from nearly two decades of violence, resulting in more than 5 million lives lost and hundreds of thousands of refugees. The toll that violence exacts on DRC is devastating, but there’s another major issue that is rarely discussed in the media.

DRC is home to some of the highest levels of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the world, as reported in a new editorial published today in PLoS NTDs.

The paper was authored by Dr. Anne Rimoin, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, and Dr. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. They write that “despite the public health importance of DRC’s NTDs, there is much more that we do not know than we do know about both the high prevalence NTDs and the emerging viruses in the Congo Basin.”

Noteworthy points include:

  • There is strong evidence that DRC has some of the highest levels of intestinal helminth infections, elephantiasis and schistosomiasis on the African continent.
  • The country bears the greatest number of cases of leprosy in Africa, and African sleeping sickness (human African trypanosimiasis) globally.
  • There are only minimal reported surveillance activities in DRC, a nation that is nearly the size of Western Europe.

Drs. Rimoin and Hotez call for improved disease surveillance to understand the total reach and severity of NTDs in DRC, which they argue is a crucial first step for providing treatment to those that need it and which is currently lacking there.

Check out the editorial here for a more detailed look at “Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Heart of Darkness” and an exploration of current and planned measures for their control.

A new tool to facilitate collaboration, advance research in developing countries


Field research, such as that conducted for clinical trials or disease surveillance, is essential to address the many pervasive health issues in developing countries. It relies on extensive collaboration between research institutions and groups on the ground. Today the Global Health Network launched a new tool, Site-Finder, that will help build these vital relationships by connecting research groups with field research sites around the world. This new network actually uses technology adapted from dating websites to suggest suitable collaborations, and will inform sites of new studies which are relevant to them.

As the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine explains on their blog, “Site-Finder provides a free, online facility for research sites to promote themselves to potential collaborators and sponsors.  In parallel, research groups planning studies can let others know about their ideas and that they are looking for others to work with.”

The Sabin Vaccine Institute (the parent organization of the Global Network) participated in the working group that developed Site-Finder, taking it from a concept to a fully functional platform with partners from the University of Oxford, Aeras, Drugs for Negected Diseases initiative (DNDi), Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (GATB), International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and PATH. More than fifty research sites have already signed up during the pilot phase of Site-Finder, including Sabin’s field site in Brazil, where researchers are studying helminth infections and testing candidates for a human hookworm vaccine. Continue reading

17 diseases, 1 resolution and a better future for more than 1.5 billion people


Taking on 17 diseases with names like schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and dracunculiasis may seem daunting. Yet earlier this year the World Health Organization (WHO) set targets for intensified control, elimination or eradication of all of these neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020.

In the past, NTDs were tackled vertically, or one by one, even in parts of the world where people were at risk for multiple infections. For decades the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the WHO, has chipped away at this huge global health challenge by passing resolutions that address individual NTDs.

But yesterday the WHA passed a landmark resolution that for the first time takes on all 17 NTDs at once. The resolution reinforces the approach that the global health community has taken recently to combat NTDs, which focuses on combining treatment programs for the most common NTDs to achieve cost reductions and increase coverage.

This is significant not only because it more effectively addresses these pervasive diseases of poverty; it also elevates the status of diseases that individually would not attract such attention, despite their tremendous impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations. Now is the time for action. As Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network, notes in the video below:

Collectively, these 17 diseases affect a billion and a half people around the world and these are the billion and a half people that live on less than a $1.25 a day. This resolution means that governments around the world will actually institute policies and put money towards tropical diseases programs to change the predicament of the poorest communities.

For full coverage of the WHA resolution, visit the WHO’s Neglected tropical diseases page.

Formidable Allies Join Effort to Eliminate NTDs


From left: Dr. Katherine Bliss, Dr. Neeraj Mistry, President Alvaro Arzú, Carl Meacham, Dr. Mirta Roses

On Tuesday, the Global Network and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a panel to welcome three new Neglected Tropical Disease Special Envoys. His Excellency, President Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen of Guatemala (1996-2000), His Excellency, President Ricardo Lagos Escobar of Chile (2000-2006) and former Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago have joined the effort to eliminate NTDs in the Americas and in other regions of the world where these diseases cause suffering and promote the cycle of poverty.

Check out the press release to read how the new Special Envoys will use their political voice and the technical expertise to reach regional and global elimination targets.

Tuesday’s event was well attended, and a lively discussion was had amongst panelists and with the audience. President Arzú and Dr. Roses participated, along with Carl Meacham, director of the CSIS Americas Program, and Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network.  The discussion was led by Dr. Katherine Bliss, senior associate with CSIS Global Health Policy Center. You can watch the full discussion below and at the event page here.

The conversation was extended to a broad audience using social media. The Global Network and others live tweeted from the event, sharing a few gems from the panelists. Here are a few excerpts from the Twitter conversation:

The new Special Envoys join the efforts of current NTD Special Envoy, His Excellency, President John A. Kufuor of the Republic of Ghana (2001-2009). Check out this recent blog post to read about how President Kufuor is paving the way for increased NTD bilateral engagement and advocacy.