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. Continue reading →
On February 7, The Lancet Infectious Diseases published an enlightening report on the global economic impact of Chagas disease. Chagas, a parasitic disease transmitted through insects called “kissing bugs,” infects nearly 10 million people worldwide, including 300,000 here in the U.S. Some people can carry the disease without knowing they have it, while others can experience debilitating respiratory infections and potentially lethal heart complications. The study examines in detail both the global and domestic economic cost of Chagas disease, which rival better publicized infections such as Lyme disease, and illustrates the urgent need for research for new tools to fight this disease.
-Ian Bradley, Research!America intern
During the final presidential debate, research finally got some airtime. President Barack Obama noted that “… if we don’t continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to create great businesses here in the United States, that’s how we lose to the competition.” Similarly, Mitt Romney emphasized his support for research, saying that “I want to invest in research, providing funding to universities … is great.”
It was great to hear both candidates acknowledge the importance of research for the future. As they explained, investment in research is crucial for supporting universities, creating jobs and maintaining America’s competitive edge (three of Research!America’s Top 10 Reasons Why the U.S. Should Invest in Global Health R&D). Research is also essential in protecting the health of the American people, as highlighted recently by a bipartisan group of Texas representatives.
On October 12, 21 Texas representatives sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking for more action to address the West Nile virus outbreak. Mentioning the significant burden of West Nile in Texas and throughout the country (4,725 cases and 219 fatalities this year alone), legislators requested that the agencies prioritize the development of a FDA-approved West Nile vaccine. Government-funded projects have made progress toward a West Nile vaccine in the past, and additional research investment could help to turn these vaccine candidates into a reality. Research to develop a vaccine is particularly important in light of new information on the long-term burden of West Nile. Recent studies have shown that 40% of West Nile patients still have severe, productivity-limiting symptoms several years after contracting the virus. Other researchers have discovered a link between the virus and chronic kidney disease, even among patients that did not show any West Nile symptoms originally.
In addition to the public health benefits of a West Nile vaccine, research investment into other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) could also save American lives. NTDs like Chagas disease and dengue fever affect thousands of Americans every day, and political leaders must prioritize research for new prevention and treatment methods to fight these diseases around the globe and here at home.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
On September 30, The Washington Post highlighted efforts in Haiti to eliminate lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis. A neglected tropical disease (NTD), elephantiasis is a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes that can lead to swelling of the arms or legs — sometimes severely enough that individuals with the disease are stigmatized or unable to work. The good news is that elephantiasis can be prevented with anti-parasitic medicines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s NTD program have taken a leadership role in administering these drugs in countries that are affected by elephantiasis. U.S. public health professionals have joined forces with local public health professionals and helped to organize programs, provide technical assistance and monitor progress. Through the collaborative efforts of these invaluable individuals, nine countries have already been declared free of elephantiasis. With support from the CDC and international charities, the Haitian health ministry is working hard to distribute this life-saving medication and join the list of countries free of elephantiasis.
This kind of outstanding work by public health professionals happens every day all around the world. Although there is no risk of elephantiasis in America, there are other NTDs emerging in the U.S. such as Chagas disease, West Nile virus and dengue fever. The CDC and other public health professionals play a crucial role in treating these diseases and organizing prevention and education campaigns here at home. These tireless individuals keep our drinking water safe, our air clean and our children healthy. Please join Research!America and other public health organizations in recognizing these public health heroes on November 19 for Public Health Thank You Day. For more information or to learn how you can get involved, please visit www.researchamerica.org/ph_thank_you or like our PHTD Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PHTD1.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern