President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute Dr. Peter Hotez writes an opinion editorial for The Hindu, an English newspaper circulated in India. The op-ed dated for March 8, 2011 is now available on the publications website. Below is an excerpt, along with a link to the full article:
India has the extraordinary opportunity to link its leading government research institutes and pharmaceutical companies in a unique public private partnership to address the diseases of the poor throughout South Asia.
Despite Indias dramatic modernisation over the last decade, it remains “ground zero” for some of the worlds most dreaded tropical diseases. A recent report in The Lancet reveals that 205,000 people in India die annually from malaria, mainly in Orissa and the surrounding states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, with almost one-half of those deaths in children. Similarly, India and its South Asian neighbours account for one-quarter of the worlds intestinal worm infections such as hookworm and roundworm, and more than one-half of the worlds cases of elephantiasis, leprosy, and visceral leishmaniasis (VL). The State of Bihar alone accounts for a large percentage of the worlds cases of VL, a serious parasitic infection also known as kala-azar that affects the bone marrow, liver, and spleen, and is associated with high mortality. Thus, while much of the global health attention is largely focused on sub-Saharan Africa, the truth is that India and adjoining Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are just as devastated by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
You disgust me. You are a parasite. You use unsuspecting mosquitoes to spread thread-like worms into unsuspecting humans. You occupy the lymphatic system in humans, and in severe cases, you lead to elephantiasis. In case you didn’t know, that’s massive and painful swelling of limbs. You cause pain, immobility, and problems for human beings that happen to be mothers, brothers, bread-winners, fathers, teachers, workers, sisters, cousins, friends. You’ve never bothered to ask for permission or wondered how your parasitic existence would affect their lives. To be honest, I’m pretty angry about this.
In fact, we use your name -parasite- to mean something so self-serving that would attach itself to someone else and live off of their life. Yes, we may have referred to past partners, boyfriends and girlfriends as parasites (evidently, relationships that don’t work out). We use your name for unsolicited malicious computer programs that destroy our hard drives. We use your name to talk about things that disgust us. Yes, we humans love a good analogy.
A young woman is measured for height to determine her proper treatment dosage for lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminthes during a mass drug administration in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Michel Pacque/USAID
There is a group of diseases you don’t hear much about but that has a terrible impact on more than 1 billion people around the world – that’s one sixth of the world’s population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified 13 of these as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and they include such dreaded illnesses as elephantiasis, leprosy, blinding trachoma, and intestinal worms. Together, NTDs have a disproportionately large impact on poor and rural populations, causing severe illness, disfigurement, and disability. They also perpetuate poverty by reducing people’s ability to work and children’s intellectual and physical development.
Until recently, many countries were treating NTDs through separate, uncoordinated programs. However, pilot studies suggest that it is possible to integrate programs to control and treat seven of these diseases together by providing safe and effective drug treatments once or twice a year to all people in an affected community. This approach, which has been endorsed by WHO and is called mass drug administration (MDA), targets large, at-risk populations, rather than individuals, since NTDs tend to occur together in the same geographic area. Pilot studies of MDAs of the seven targeted NTDs resulted in significant reductions of illness and transmission of these diseases and indicated that, though there were major challenges, integrating control programs was possible and could result in cost savings and efficiencies. However, it was not clear if integrated programs could be scaled up to the national level.
Podoconiosis is a type of tropical lymphoedema that researchers have been analyzing for around 10 years. It is clinically different from Lymphatic Filriasis (elephantiasis)based on the design of the strand and is characterized by a prodromal phase before elephantiasis sets in. Thus far, evidence shows that the podoconiosis is the result of a genetically determined abnormal inflammatory reaction to mineral particles in irritant red clay soils derived from volcanic deposits. Outbreaks have been endemic to the highland areas of tropical Africa, central America, and West India.
the Lymphatic Filariasis infection is usually acquired in childhood, but the painful and profoundly disfiguring visible manifestations of the disease occur later in life. THIS IS PREVENTABLE. JOIN OUR FIGHT!
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.