By Kristen Krebs

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are an important health issue in countries around the world. Most people don’t think about them at all, let alone know that some NTDs are also prevalent in the United States. The emerging threat of NTDs at home has been gaining attention recently, such as in this recent article, which appeared online in Discover.

As discussed by Sabin President Dr. Peter Hotez, one of these NTDs is Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that affects an estimated 300,000 people in the U.S. Chagas is estimated to have an economic burden of $1 billion in the U.S., between health care expenses ($118 million) and productivity losses ($864 million). Other NTDs that are present in the U.S. include neurocysticerosis, dengue infection and toxocariasis.

On May 15 2013, Research!America hosted “Neglected Tropical Disease Research in Louisiana: Saving Lives and Creating Jobs,” at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in  New Orleans. Along with their event, Research!America premiered two new videos. The first video discusses the emerging NTDs in America and the effect they have on those living with them. It specifically talks about Chagas Disease, which affects the Southern third to half of the United States.  The second video is a personal story of a woman in the United States living with Chagas Disease. Both videos conclude with a call for more research and development for NTD drugs and treatments. The current drugs for Chagas are efficient at treating new infections, but less successful at treating long term infections. Dr. Dawn Wesson states, “We need more medications, more drugs and more experimentation on different types of drugs that can potentially cure those long term infections.”

While it is important to call for increased research and development for NTD drugs, it is equally as important that there is increased research and development for NTD vaccines as well. NTD vaccines have the potential to not only treat NTDs, but to help control and prevent them. An effective vaccine for Chagas disease could be a cost-effective way to prevent cardiac complications and disability related to Chagas disease and avert thousands of deaths annually. The Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership focuses on developing sustainable and cost-effective vaccines for NTDs, including Chagas disease, which now have an increased significance for the United States population that is affected by these emerging NTDs.