In a new editorial published in PLOS NTDs, “The NTDs and Vaccine Diplomacy in Latin America: Opportunities for United States Foreign Policy,” Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) President Dr. Peter Hotez suggests avenues for science and global health diplomacy in Latin America.

Dr. Hotez focuses on five countries which have a high prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs): Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.

Consider, for instance, that:

  • Bolivia has the highest number of Chagas disease cases (620,000) of these five countries and in the Latin America and Caribbean region overall.
  • Nicaragua leads in cutaneous leishmaniasis cases (9,000-14,800).
  • Venezuela has the largest number of dengue fever cases (3.5 million).
  • The greatest number of children who require deworming for intestinal helminth infections live in Bolivia.
  • Cuba has a large number of cases of dengue fever and intestinal helminth infections.

As Dr. Hotez notes, “Such high numbers of people affected by NTDs afford potential opportunities for the U.S. to work with these countries in programs of science and global health diplomacy.” These cooperative efforts could include expertise sharing and vaccine research and development (R&D).

For example, a dengue fever epidemiological research program in Nicaragua and the experiences of the countries mentioned above with tackling Chagas disease, cutaneous leishmaniasis and dengue, which have emerged in the southern U.S., could provide new insights on how to address these diseases. Additionally, the U.S. and Cuba would work together on disease control programs for the four low-income LAC countries Dr. Hotez discusses: Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Vaccine diplomacy is another way to foster cooperation and collaboration. The U.S. and Cuba have robust R&D programs and networks of partners. Non-profit product development partnerships, such as the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, can help form critical ties with developing country vaccine manufacturers.

“Ultimately,” Dr. Hotez writes, “it could be exciting to see how joint programs of NTD control and vaccine and other types of R&D might become front and center to U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America. Such programs represent an important, potentially highly productive, and yet largely untapped opportunity.”

Be sure to read the full editorial at this link.