Category Archives: Sabin Vaccine Institute

From Houston and Washington to the German Capital; the Fight to End NTDs Returns to Berlin

Global Network and Sabin Vaccine Institute representatives meet German parliamentarian, Mr. Martin Rabanus, a Member of the Committee on Education, Research, and Technology Assessment

Global Network and Sabin representatives meet German MP Martin Rabanus

In September, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network) and the Sabin Vaccine Institute traveled to Berlin to meet with Members of Parliament, German NGO partners and the media to inspire action on the promises to combat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), made during the G7 Summit held in Germany this summer.

The Global Network, which is committed to seeing the end of NTDs — a group of 17 diverse diseases with distinct characteristics that thrive mainly among the poorest and most marginalized populations — works with partners around the world toward achieving this mission. The momentum to combat these debilitating and disfiguring diseases continues to grow and, during the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in June, Germany elevated the profile of NTDs by making “neglected and poverty-related diseases” a key topic for discussion.

The city of Berlin has a unique historical connection to NTDs; it was in Berlin 10 years ago that scientists, the German government and implementing partners first came together and coined the term “NTDs,” an important milestone in defining a collective response against these diseases. Germany is also home to the Institute for Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen where two 19th century German scientists who were instrumental in discovering the causes of schistosomiasis and elephantiasis, Theodor Bilharz and Otto Henry Wucherer, often lectured. Representatives from the university are also members of the newly formed German Network against NTDs.

During this most recent visit to Berlin, the Global Network’s Dr. Neeraj Mistry and Ms. Michelle Brooks, accompanied by Sabin’s President, Dr. Peter Hotez, as well as Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, participated in one-on-one meetings with Members of the German Bundestag, discussing short- and long-term goals surrounding disease elimination. Globally, nearly 1.4 billion people, including more than 500 million children, are at risk from NTDs and require treatment. Medicines are generously donated by pharmaceutical industry partners, however, the value of the donated drugs is not enough to combat NTDs if the funding falls short to ensure their delivery to communities who need them most.

It is fitting that a decade after pivotal meetings in Berlin created the term “NTDs,” the focus is once again on Germany. The G7 Leaders’ Declaration, published at the culmination of the summit, offers hopeful news for communities across Africa, Southeast Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, most marginalized by NTDs by promising to “invest in the prevention and control of NTDs in order to achieve 2020 elimination goals.”

An immediate increase in financing for NTD treatment and prevention programs is essential to build on the progress achieved so far. Opportunities to eliminate elephantiasis, river blindness and trachoma are nearly within our grasp. Countries worldwide, including the G7 nations, can play an important leadership role by helping to close this annual funding gap of US $220 million. If we fail to act now, not only will we reverse many milestones achieved, but one in six people across the world will continue to suffer unnecessarily from NTDs, held hostage in a cycle of perpetual poverty and inequality. Moreover, failure to act now will undermine the efforts of the G7 to demonstrate their accountability and effectiveness as a group.

We certainly applaud the German government for her bold steps taken on behalf of NTDs this year, and we will be watching this week on October 8th and 9th as the G7 ministers for health and research meet once again in Berlin to discuss next steps.

Using visual media to raise awareness of NTDs

NTD-Competitions-BlogImage-1Today we’ve posted an essay by Keng Hou Mak, a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program at Baylor College of Medicine and one of five winners of a student competition on raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) — a group of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections that afflict mainly those living in extreme poverty.

The writing contest and related outreach competition are associated with a Sept. 29-30 Baker Institute conference on NTDs in the U.S. and Mexico. One winning essay will be featured here each week leading up the conference.

The public is invited to attend the Baker Institute NTD conference, but an RSVP is required. Please click here for more information and to register for the event.

I was telling a friend about the many Africans affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and how these diseases perpetuate poverty. She was convinced of their global importance. But apparently, my speech did not stir her until I told her the scabies she just recovered from was one of the NTDs. This is a clear example showing that the collective term “NTDs” might be confusing. The term might seem even more removed from Americans who do not live in the poorest neighborhoods and have never contracted any of the NTDs; such people are mostly unaware of the pain and suffering caused by NTDs, despite their far-reaching socioeconomic significance for the affected population and America as a whole.

One way to relate and link individual NTDs to the public is through visual means. A quick Google search for “neglected tropical diseases” returns few impressive images — mostly of African children in a poor village setting. Therefore, for current and future campaigns, we need to generate diverse visual materials that the public can relate to.

Another property of NTDs, unlike many household-name diseases, is that many of them are readily preventable at a negligible cost, with tremendous gains in the quality of life and productivity of the affected. A fundraising campaign that makes use of this fact will get the message through to the public. I am proposing the following campaign that combines these two concepts through the use of social media:

Campaign: Five NTs (Neglected Truths) About NTDs

The campaign starts with a 2D graphic design contest with themes on important messages about NTDs, and then generates an online presence with a slideshow article on five neglected facts about NTDs, using materials from the design contest. The online article will be set up to allow small, fixed donations through a one-touch method.

  1. 2D Graphic Design Contest

Why 2D visual: It is versatile, powerful and instant. 2D visuals can be adapted to different media and for various uses, can be more powerful than texts, and can stir up an instant response from viewers, which cannot be achieved by videos.

Goals: Increase awareness among contestants and encourage them to think more deeply about NTDs through the creation process. Generate visual materials for the rest of the campaign and for future use.

Who participates: Open to the public. It will in particular be advertised to students through NTD groups in schools.

Format: 2D visuals in all forms, including infographics, memes, photos, graphics, and comics.

Topics: Five core messages determined by the campaign organizers — for example, the parasite-poverty loop, NTDs are on American soil, the broad (and often invisible) impacts of NTDs, and the seven most common NTDs.

How to determine the winner: Contest entries are displayed under each of the “neglected facts” in the online slideshow article. The entry that gathers the most “likes” from the public within a period of time (e.g., four weeks) is the winner.

Possible alternate uses of the materials: A Wikipedia page or an image collection for NTD groups at schools and universities

  1. Online Slideshow Article on “Five NTs (Neglected Truths) About NTDs”

Why five: This format of article — e.g., “Top 10 Restaurants in Houston” or “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Cats” —is the most likely to be shared on social media, which will increase the chance of getting the messages to more people.

Goals: Generate an online presence by sharing the article for fundraising and spreading the message. Create a platform to determine the winner of the contest.

Contents of the article: The article will be organized into five slides on the core messages used for the contest. The text of the article will include relevant information about each message, provided by the organizing committee from the relevant literature and sources. The images for the slideshow will come from the contestants in the 2D design contest. A “Donate” link, described below, will also be included. NTD-focused groups in schools and contestants are expected to be the first to share the article on social media.

  1. One-Touch Donation

Just 50 cents can protect a person from the seven most common NTDs for a year. The campaign can use this fact to get more people involved and, importantly, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a difference — and how important, given the socioeconomic significance of NTDs. To do this, I propose a fundraising component that requests a fixed amount small enough that people would seldom hesitate to donate (e.g., $5). To make the process even easier, the donation can be collected in the form of the charge from downloading an app. People who wish to donate can download an app, and since their accounts for the Apple app store or Google Play are linked to their credit card information, the donation can be done in one step. The app could simply be a chart showing daily updates on the amount raised by the campaign; it can also show how many people can be saved from NTDs since the start of the campaign. This gives the donor a sense of being part of a bigger community that fights against NTDs.

This part of the campaign complements the previous part on generating an online presence, since we need to reach as many people as possible for the small amount each person donates.

Keng Hou Mak, originally from Hong Kong, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. His interest in neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) started with his thesis project on the evolutionary conservation of a stress signaling mechanism, which he studied in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a small, non-parasitic nematode. Mak learned that this worm, which has been studied extensively, could be used to provide the knowledge and tools needed to understand the parasitic nematodes that cause NTDs. He was struck by the impact of basic science on global socioeconomic issues, such as those caused by NTDs, and realized that education and community outreach was also critical to making a difference.

This essay originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog.

Using social media to raise awareness of NTDs

NTD-Competitions-BlogImage-1Today we’ve posted an essay by Juan Ulises Rojo, a graduate student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and one of five winners of a student competition on raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) — a group of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections that afflict mainly those living in extreme poverty.

The writing contest and related outreach competition are associated with a Sept. 29-30 Baker Institute conference on NTDs in the U.S. and Mexico. One winning essay will be featured here each week leading up the conference.

The public is invited to attend the Baker Institute NTD conference, but an RSVP is required. Please click here for more information and to register for the event.

With the spread of globalization and the Internet, an awareness campaign has the potential to reach millions of people and educate them about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). I propose the creation of a new campaign, called Tropical Diseases Campaign, to reach people through social media and events.

The Tropical Diseases Campaign (TDC) will have a website with three main components: a YouTube channel, a blog and a “take action” portal with the goal of reaching as many people as possible. First, an active YouTube channel linked to the TDC website will broadcast short, five to 10 minute clips about different NTDs. Individual videos about each NTD will present and explain information in general language, and new videos will be uploaded on a regular basis. These videos will present various aspects of tropical diseases, including causative agents, epidemiology, clinical cases, current treatments and preventive strategies. Viewers will be encouraged to share the video and visit the TDC website. The purpose of the short clips is to make the information accessible — people can watch the videos at any time, and the videos leave them with a message. Also, YouTube channels are popular because of the profit earned by the number of views and advertisements. The money earned from the YouTube channel can be income for the self-supporting TDC.

The blog component of TDC will be designed to invite people to share ideas, anecdotes, videos and photos about their experiences with NTDs. The purpose of the blog is to give a voice to those who have experienced NTDs firsthand. For example, physicians, scientists and people who live in endemic areas can all share their experiences.

The final main component of the Tropical Diseases Campaign website is the “take action” portal. This part of the website will provide links and information about volunteer opportunities to help people living in endemic areas, job positions related to treating NTDs and research opportunities. This section will also provide information about universities that have ongoing NTD-related research for students interested in graduate school. The “take action” portal will also include a donation option that will support people living in endemic areas.

Although there are a number of websites that provide sources and information about NTDs, few people are aware of these websites, and thus the message is not able to reach the public. The main challenge for the success of TDC is to reach a large audience and encourage them to take action.

There are three ways people can make a difference through the Tropical Diseases Campaign: 1) create partnerships with universities, 2) sell merchandise, and 3) organize an NTDs awareness walk. TDC can create partnerships with universities and promote student clubs that focus on NTDs awareness. Students can actively participate in the website by making videos, writing for the blog or making donations. Another way to promote awareness of NTDs is merchandise. In fact, merchandise has played a strong role in promoting awareness of diabetes, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS. T-shirts, bracelets, ribbons and bumper stickers are commonly used to invite people to participate in battling these diseases. The TDC could also sell merchandise to support awareness of NTDs. Finally, organizing walks or runs can also help engage and educate people about a cause. In fact, the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk organized by the American Cancer Society is a powerful event that engages the community to increase awareness and raise money. The same approach can be implemented by the TDC. A shoeless mile-long walk for NTD awareness could bring the community together as well as secure sponsors, in order to provide donations that will be used to treat, prevent and research NTDs. More importantly, this event will bring media attention to reach more people who can participate in the campaign.

While this proposal may appear broad, we need to keep in mind that no single approach will be effective in spreading awareness of NTDs. It is important to use as many resources as possible to reach people and educate them about neglected tropical diseases. Hopefully, in the near future, with the help of the TDC, these diseases will no longer be neglected.

Juan Ulises Rojo is a second-year graduate student researching schistosomiasis at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. Raised in Ciudad Juárez, México, Rojo moved to the United States after high school and attended the University of Texas at El Paso. He was later accepted into the National Institute of Minority Health and Heath Disparities International Research Training program, and learned more about parasitic diseases in rural communities at the University of Costa Rica. He graduated with a B.S. in clinical laboratory science from UT El Paso in 2012 and worked as a medical technologist for one year before deciding to enter graduate school. Rojo plans to continue a career focused on the study and eradication of NTDs.

This essay originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog.

Broadcasting change on college campuses

Today we’ve posted an essay by Rice University sophomore Elisabeth Kalomeris, one of five winners of a student competition on raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a group of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections that afflict mainly those living in extreme poverty.

The writing contest and related outreach competition are associated with a Sept. 29-30 Baker Institute conference on NTDs in the U.S. and Mexico. One winning essay will be featured here each week leading up the conference.

The public is invited to attend the Baker Institute NTD conference, but an RSVP is required. Please click here for more information and to register for the event.NTD-Competitions-BlogImage-1

Awareness is only as useful as the action it inspires. Key actors who are committed to change drive awareness. These committed few are like radio towers, broadcasting their cause within their radius of influence, attaining not only more listeners, but also moving others to become “broadcasters” themselves. Many people become passionate about a cause because it has affected their lives personally. Important issues that do not touch our lives directly, like neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), do not have the same network of broadcasters for that reason. Therefore, focusing on fostering a smaller, core group of broadcasters — those who will be most active and committed to spreading change — will be the most effective in raising awareness to a broader network. This strategy will be even more effective because of the personal level on which broadcasters interact. In this essay, I will use an existing organization, Camp Kesem, as a model for creating an NTD-related organization. An NTD-focused philanthropic organization that has independent clubs on college campuses would not only raise awareness to campus-wide groups of young people at a formative age, but also nurtures groups of “broadcasters” who will have a long-term investment in NTDs. These individuals will gain experience with philanthropic organization and fund-raising, learning the skills to turn passion into action.

This NTD-centered organization would be loosely modeled after organizations like Camp Kesem, a network of student-run summer camps with corresponding chapters at universities. When I arrived at Rice University, Camp Kesem had a major presence on campus. While I have never participated in the club, students go through a rigorous interview process to be selected as camp counselors and many go on to be on the executive board of their chapter. Camp Kesem was founded by students, but has since grown to have full-time staff and a board of directors at the national level. While this demonstrates the room for growth with student-run networks, the summer camps are still mainly staffed and organized by college students. An NTD-focused organization that supports college students in their efforts to start chapters at their own universities would allow for rapid horizontal expansion, with little effort or funds for initial start-up costs.

These smaller chapters could host a multitude of events to raise awareness and funding throughout the year. Members could inform their peers about the devastating effects of specific diseases under the NTD umbrella, such as onchocerciasis and schistosomiasis. Bringing awareness about a few of these NTDs in detail will foster greater understanding of the devastating effects of these treatable diseases as a whole. A campus club also has the ability to inform students about the social factors surrounding many NTDs, which are still prevalent primarily because of lack of access to medical care and information.

In addition to continuous fundraising efforts and awareness campaigns for NTDs, an important fixture for an NTD philanthropy would be an annual mission. Chapters could finance a campus-wide scholarship that would select a student to learn more about NTDs over the summer. Many philanthropic clubs are perpetually raising money, but can easily lose motivation. Campus clubs are especially vulnerable when impassioned members, usually the founders, graduate. Having steady goals would be effective while the chapter is active, but provides little structure and few opportunities for growth within the club. An annual summer scholarship fund, no matter how small, is a visible goal that requires commitment and yearlong planning. The students who organize this summer program would gain important skills, as well as deepen their investment in the club. The students who apply, whether it is for an actual program set up by the chapter or for a stipend dedicated to offset independent research or volunteerism, would gain a meaningful summer experience completing NTD-related work.

The most important function of the campus chapters in this hypothetical NTD organization would be to foster a young adult’s passion and ability for action in addressing neglected tropical diseases. Participation would lead to a deeper commitment and understanding of NTDs. This group may attract some broadcasters—students who are already outspoken and attract others to their cause — but its most important function would be to create new broadcasters and endow them with the ability to translate concern for an issue into concrete change. An organization with autonomous chapters would have a ripple effect across the country. Not only would it be one of the quickest and cheapest ways to create an extended presence of NTD-awareness campaigns, but it also would effectively target those with time, resources, and drive to make change possible. College campuses are home to huge numbers of smart, dedicated students who are at a formative age. Not everyone continues to follow the same passions they did in college, but those who do may become some of the greatest agents of change.

Creating a nationwide network of philanthropic college clubs addressing NTDs is an efficient way to raise awareness and create lifelong leaders. College chapters are started and run entirely by students, making them a feasible and sustainable option for ongoing initiatives on campuses. Fundraising events centered around informing students about specific diseases under the NTD umbrella lead to a better understanding of the crippling effect of these preventable diseases and the social issues surrounding them. These clubs will also nurture NTD activists, who will broadcast their message to even more students. Adjustments to the original concept will surely be made, but the original outline is far less important than the broadcasters who will be growing with the organization.

Elisabeth Kalomeris is a sophomore at Rice University studying psychology and public policy. She has spent several summers in Brazil, where she first learned about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and their impact. After learning more about the role of NTDs as a barrier to global health, she became involved in the new chapter of the END7 campaign at Rice in the fall.

This essay originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog.