Agence France-Presse reports on human African trypanosomiasis, “commonly known as sleeping sickness, which is transmitted by tsetse flies found in 36 sub-Saharan African countries,” writing, “Without treatment in four months to a year, ‘the parasite penetrates into the brain, causing serious neurological symptoms, until death,’ said Doctor Benedict Blaynay, head of neglected tropical diseases at French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi.” The news service highlights efforts to control the disease in Chad, noting, “For the people living in Chad’s rural communities, the strange symptoms of sleeping sickness have long been shrouded in superstition about witchcraft and demonic possession. But the World Health Organization says it is not a losing battle.”
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)
“Chagas disease, a parasitic infection spread to humans by insects, is not the new HIV/AIDS of the Americas, according to infectious disease experts who called the comparison,” made in an editorial published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases last week, “‘unrealistic’ and ‘unfortunate,'” ABC News’ “Medical Unit” blog reports. “Rick Tarleton, president of the Chagas Disease Foundation, said the diseases have little in common beyond disproportionately affecting poor people,” the blog notes (Moisse, 6/1).
“Researchers are warning that the little-known Chagas disease could pose a threat similar to other global pandemics,” Fox News reports, noting Chagas disease “is a parasitic illness that is most commonly transmitted by the so-called ‘kissing bugs,’ a subfamily of blood-sucking insects, through the parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi” (5/31). In an editorial published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases on Tuesday, a team of experts in tropical diseases from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas “likens some aspects of the disease to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and warns of a possible pandemic,” GlobalPost writes (Wolfe, 5/31).
“Over a billion people, one in every six people living on this planet, suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs,” a VOA editorial states, noting, “These usually treatable and preventable diseases include schistosomiasis; elephantiasis; trachoma; Chagas disease; river blindness; leprosy; kala-azar, dengue, black fever and other forms of leishmaniasis; and the three most common infections — the soil-transmitted parasites hookworm, roundworm and whipworm.”
The Huffington Post is running “a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19,” according to the news service. The following summarizes some of the posts published this week.
As Agriculture Intensifies To Promote Food Security, Prevention Research For Buruli Ulcer Also Must Intensify
“Buruli ulcer could spread as agriculture intensifies in Africa, making prevention research vital,” Rousseau Djouaka, a researcher at the Benin branch of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), argues in this SciDev.Net opinion piece. “The intensification of lowland agriculture has been linked with the increased incidence of human diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis and Buruli ulcer (BU),” he writes, noting, “Of these, BU remains the least well documented and most neglected in the wet agro-ecosystems of west and central Africa.” He provides statistics regarding infection rates in Africa and notes, “People affected by the skin infection, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans, develop large ulcers which often result in scarring, deformities, amputations, and disabilities, especially when the diagnosis is delayed.”
On Tuesday, “the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases [NTDs], in partnership with the Embassy of South Africa, hosted a panel called ‘Integrated Approaches to Health and Development through NTD Control,'” according to the network’s “End the Neglect” blog. “The Global Network’s managing director, Dr. Neeraj Mistry, moderated the panel and hopes the discussion will improve awareness of and support for solutions to NTDs, diseases that have often been ‘hidden in the shadows,'” the blog writes, noting panelists included Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute; Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at Kaiser Family Foundation; and Ok Pannenborg, former chief health adviser for the World Bank Group (Garlow, 5/9).
“A vaccine against one of the most neglected yet fatal tropical diseases is being tested for the first time in a clinical trial in India and the U.S.,” IRIN reports. Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), “also called kala-azar or black fever, infects an estimated half million persons or more annually,” and “[i]t is found most commonly in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Brazil and Sudan,” the news service notes. “A total of 72 volunteers are participating in the trial, but scientists say it will take years of testing to roll out an affordable vaccine to the 200 million people globally at risk of VL infection,” IRIN writes, adding, “The WHO has warned that VL is spreading to previously unaffected countries due to co-infections of HIV and leishmaniasis, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said climate change can also spur the spread of the disease” (5/9).
The National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a pilot program under which “three pharmaceutical companies have agreed to make dozens of their failed compounds available to researchers, who will investigate if the compounds can be re-purposed into successful treatments for other diseases,” Ashley Bennett, senior policy associate at the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), writes in the group’s “Breakthroughs” blog. “With this new therapeutics program, NIH and NCATS have created an exciting, innovative model for collaboration between the public and private sectors. … Now NCATS must ensure that research for neglected diseases is encouraged and supported through this initiative,” Bennett says (5/7).
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ “End the Neglect” blog examines the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Burundi, writing, “In 2007, the Legatum Foundation, an international private investment organization that promotes sustainable development throughout the world agreed to fund the treatment of NTDs in Burundi and brought together several partners to assist Burundi’s Ministry of Health.” The blog notes, “It has been over five years since the Burundi NTD Control Plan was implemented, and its success is visible throughout the country” and provides a link to the network’s “A Better Future for Burundi” video, “which highlights all the accomplishments in controlling NTDs in Burundi” (5/4).