Research!America and Global Health Experts Focus on the Economic and Health Burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases in the U.S.

Leading researchers discuss emerging health threats at panel discussion

During a panel discussion today at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, hosted by Research!America, several researchers and leading public health experts said the nation must increase public awareness and research to address the emergence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the U.S.

NTDs, commonly associated with the developing world, have recently been identified in many parts of the country including Louisiana. Factors such as increased globalization, trade, migration, urban sprawl or climate change have been cited as potential underlying causes for the emergence of NTDs in the U.S. Chagas disease, which can cause heart failure, affects more than 300,000 people across the nation and costs the U.S. an estimated $1 billion in health care and lost productivity each year. Researchers at Loyola University New Orleans identified the first locally acquired case of Chagas disease in Louisiana.

“Tulane has a long history of addressing neglected tropical diseases. Researchers at the school have contributed to the effort to know more about and help curtail or eliminate diseases such as Chagas, dengue and leishmaniasis,” said Pierre Buekens, MD, professor and dean, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “Efforts have focused on studying the epidemiology of diseases such as these, understanding the molecular biology, and developing effective vector control programs.”

To combat the health and economic burden of NTDs, researchers at Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans and Louisiana State University (LSU) are working with local and federal agencies to develop new tools and treatments for use here and abroad. The importance of NTD research was underscored when the World Health Organization recently pledged to eliminate or control 10 NTDs, such as visceral leishmaniasis, which causes internal organ damage, by the year 2020.

“We’re seeing NTDs emerge and re-emerge, further straining our health care system and putting the health of many Americans at risk, yet our federal agencies that track and research these diseases are scaling back their work due to budget cuts,” said Jennifer Chow, director of global and public health at Research!America. “Without robustly funded public sector research, not only will local communities suffer, but the nation as a whole will pay a higher price.”

Patients infected with NTDs suffer from debilitating symptoms such as blindness or disfigurement, and some cases lead to fatalities. The Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Infectious Disease Research at LSU is studying the re-emergence of dengue, West Nile virus and other devastating NTDs.

“We are thrilled to host this important event on the school campus as diseases such as Chagas, dengue and West Nile are becoming more of a threat to our state and to the world,” Buekens added.

The panel discussion was held at Collins C. Diboll Gallery and Auditorium at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Also, the premiere screening of a video highlighting NTDs in the U.S. was shown at the event. The video features stories of patients affected by NTDs and the researchers and medical staff that treat patients like them. NTDs affect more than 1.4 billion people worldwide and are often fatal or disabling if left untreated.

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