Category Archives: Sabin Vaccine Institute

Taking the “neglect” out of “neglected tropical diseases”

NTD-Competitions-BlogImage-1Today we’ve posted an essay by Rice University rising junior Anjali Bhatla, 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.

Most people have never heard of diseases such as Chagas, elephantiasis, or ascariasis. However, these illnesses are some of the 17 infectious diseases the World Health Organization has categorized as “neglected tropical diseases” (NTDs). NTDs are said to affect the “bottom billion” of the world’s population, or those who are living on less than $1.25 per day. NTDs, which have a high morbidity, have been shown to perpetuate the cycle of poverty due to their ability to impair physical and cognitive development, negatively affect maternal and child health, and socially stigmatize those who are afflicted. Regardless of the disabling economic consequences of NTDs, they have been largely ignored, continuing to persist in the world’s most marginalized populations. Contrary to popular belief, NTDs do not just exist in developing countries, but rather have been shown to also exist in pockets of poverty in developed countries. Given the neglected nature of NTDs, there is plenty that we as students can do to make a difference in the lives of those living with NTDs. Ending the neglect requires three steps: 1) education, 2) awareness, and 3) advocacy.

Education is a key component in impacting the field of NTDs. Through educating ourselves, we can articulate the importance of NTDs to others. This requires understanding what aspects of NTDs contribute to the neglect they continually face. First, they have a high morbidity, rather than high mortality, rendering them “less important” than diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. However, morbidity can have just as disastrous consequences as mortality, and NTDs render those infected chronically disabled. Second, NTDs predominately affect those living in impoverished countries, which makes it difficult to communicate the ramifications of the diseases to individuals with the social and political capital to aid endemic countries. Third, the demographics of infected individuals make it unprofitable for pharmaceutical companies to pursue therapies for NTDs. These factors are the reasons why it is of utmost importance for us as students to educate ourselves about NTDs and communicate the value of preventing these diseases to others.

Engaging the public is imperative if we are to mobilize a movement to end NTDs. This requires using our knowledge to disseminate information on the social and economic consequences of NTDs and the need for the public to address these issues through fund-raising and advocacy. A great way for students to increase awareness of NTDs on campus is to start an END7 chapter at their college. END7 aims to increase awareness of the seven most common NTDs and raise funds for mass drug administration, which can greatly reduce the incidence of NTDs in endemic countries. Through a student organization such as END7, undergraduates can exchange ideas on how to address the health disparities prevalent in endemic countries, engage in dialogue with peers on the importance of addressing NTDs, and implement creative events, programming, and social media campaigns to increase understanding of NTDs at a societal level.

The team that will be spearheading END7 at Rice University, of which I am a member, has discussed a number of creative projects, including depicting stories of patients with NTDs, creating an “NTD week” to educate students on the scientific and social aspects of a different disease each day, and sponsoring a 5K with seven water stops, each featuring information on an individual NTD. Utilizing social media can be a way of reaching a much wider audience, and college students are in a unique position to capitalize on the use of technology. A social media campaign in which a person takes a picture of themselves taking action against NTDs and uses the hashtag #nomoreneglect could be a potential way of incorporating a much larger audience into the conversation. Ultimately we want to increase awareness in order to spur action in others, and I believe a great way of doing this would be to create a service-learning grant program in which students could apply for money to implement a project that addresses NTDs in a creative way. These grants could fund projects such as a student policy competition on NTDs or the creation of curriculum to educate K-12 students on NTDs. By funding student projects around the country and world, each person can have a leadership role in taking action against NTDs.

Ultimately, I believe policy structures need to be utilized in order to address the health disparities that cause NTDs. Low socioeconomic status, inadequate health systems, and the need for proper infrastructure for clean water and sanitation are root causes of NTDs. We need to frame NTDs as a social justice issue in health: a realization that elements of society disproportionately contribute to this public health issue and policy should be drafted to aid those in need. Students can have a profound impact on policy by speaking with their local and national representatives about important issues and advocating for certain pieces of legislation. For example, most of the funding for fighting NTDs comes from developed countries, and policymakers are proposing a cut in funding in the current US budget. By calling representatives, writing letters, and signing petitions, it is possible to convince Congress of the importance of retaining funding for NTDs. As students, our voice is incredibly important, and we have a social responsibility to engage in the political process and advocate for NTDs at the governmental level.

More than one billion of the world’s population is suffering from NTDs, a staggering amount of people to be affected by a group of infections few have heard of. We cannot continue to let this injustice occur, and as the next generation we need to be civically minded students. Addressing the issue of NTDs is critical to improving the health and economic productivity of over one-seventh of the world’s population. Through education, awareness, and advocacy of NTDs, we can drive significant social change and work toward taking the neglect out of neglected tropical diseases.

Anjali Bhatla is a rising junior at Rice University majoring in health sciences and policy studies. Bhatla founded the Rice University chapter of the END7 campaign, which aims to raise awareness and funds for the seven most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). She plans to pursue an M.D./MBA dual degree and ultimately develop and implement policies that help make health care systems more equitable and efficient.

This essay originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog.

A Part of Something Bigger: Reflection from the Sabin Symposium



Jessica Yoo*, an END7 Student Advisory Board Member from the University of Virginia, reflects on her experience attending the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s 20th Anniversary Scientific Symposium. 

Starstruck. As a 21-year old college student, I had never in my life been surrounded by so many inspiring visionaries and giants in public health. A few weekends ago, I traveled from the University of Virginia to Washington, DC to attend the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s 20th Anniversary Scientific Symposium.  There, in the oaken, soft-lit belly of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), I got an insider’s peek at what some of the most brilliant minds of global health do on a regular basis.

Listening to speeches from a star-studded cast of representatives from the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the GAVI Alliance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Harvard School of Public Health, I received a crash course on the history of vaccinology, learned about the challenges of developing a broad-spectrum antibody for influenza A, and rediscovered the complexity of the factors underpinning a successful health initiative.

The broad palate of ideas presented— ranging from economic analyses to new advances in cutting-edge molecular biotechnology— reminded me that the public health challenges we face today require an interdisciplinary approach that integrates all fields of study. Observing doctors, writers, policymakers, MPH-holders, researchers, advocates, scientists, businessmen, photographers and professors interact during the coffee break only reinforced this impression.

A ringing noise announced the end of the coffee break and I followed the steady scuffle of heels and dress shoes back into the conference room, where a discussion panel comprised of representatives from PAHO, UNICEF, Merck Vaccines, Biofarma, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awaited. Dr. Ciro de Quadros, a legendary figure that later received the Public Health Heroes of the Americas award for his work with eradicating smallpox and polio in the Americas, led the panel discussion on ways to collaboratively advance the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP). It was clear that this type of cooperation and teamwork between participating nonprofits, governmental organizations and private sector companies is necessary for effective, holistic and sustainable changes to occur in the global health arena.

To signal the drawing end of the symposium, a message from Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), reiterated the potential of vaccines as a powerful tool against diseases and celebrated the great distances already traversed in immunization worldwide. Reflecting back upon Sabin’s 20-year journey, as well as the colorful history of vaccinology and public health overall, I was able to connect my efforts to bring the END7 to the University of Virginia’s campus to the larger effort to improve health worldwide.

In other words, one of the most valuable insights I gained from the symposium was the sense that I was part of something bigger— something noble and grand. Through my involvement with END7, I had also inadvertently joined humanity’s relentless race against the affliction and senseless suffering caused by diseases worldwide. Thus, we may not have the full answer to the question posed by Dr. Peter Hotez at the beginning of the symposium, when he asked what the next twenty years will look like for vaccine development and global health worldwide. But looking back on the significant milestones and lessons accumulated over the past two decades, I too am confident that “the future of immunization looks bright.”

*Jessica joined the END7 Student Advisory Board in January, and has been working with other passionate students this semester to found an END7 Coalition at the University of Virginia. 

The Neglected Egyptian Protest

About two years ago around this time, crowds of protest movements were enveloping the Middle East and North Africa. Protestors were coming together to work towards better representation of people that had the capacity to serve the larger population, rather than the upper elite. In Egypt, particularly about two years ago around this time, the former President of Egypt of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to step down.

The Middle East region includes about 20 countries, with almost 400 million people living within its span. Of this population, about 65 million people live on less than $2 US dollars a day. Egypt has the largest number of people living in poverty in the Middle East, with 18 percent out of 80.4 million living on less than US$2 per day. Loose labor laws, a lack of strong physical infrastructure and a weakened sense of social justice amounted to an overwhelming amount of unsatisfied civilians that took to Tahrir Square in 2011 and have since been fighting for their just representation by government officials.

Economic burdens and restraints, like those that have affected a large portion of Egypt’s population, not only lead to inequality of employment, resources and infrastructure, but they can also eventually lead to the regression of physical health. When you have such a large population living in under-privileged circumstances, people walk a very thin line of safety when it comes to health services. It may not have stood out as a single issue that raised headlines during the protests, but the lack of policy that suppressed the spread of diseases is also a result of government neglect.

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Oct. 6, 1956: Sabin Polio Vaccine Ready to Test

On this day in 1956, the Sabin Polio Vaccine was ready for mass testing. Developed by Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the live-virus oral polio vaccine would eventually help bring an end to the polio epidemic that ran rampant in America during the early 20th century. Below is an excerpt from Wired magazine’s blog, “This Day in Tech” which showcases Dr. Sabin and his revolutionary polio vaccine, take a look:

1956: Dr. Albert Sabin announces that his live-virus oral polio vaccine is ready for mass testing. It will soon supplant the Salk vaccine.

Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease caused by viruses. Its effects range from complete recovery to death. Intermediate possibilities are mild after-effects, moderate to severe paralysis of a limb or limbs, or paralyzed chest muscles, necessitating the confining but lifesaving use of an iron lung.

Polio epidemics periodically ravaged American cities in the first half of the 20th century. Children were especially vulnerable, but the disease also struck adults, most notably former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1921.

Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, and he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (as the disease was then often called) in 1938. The foundation conducted a huge annual fundraising campaign called the March of Dimes.”

Click hereto read the full blogpost.