More than half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting diseases carried by small organisms like mosquitoes, snails and sand flies. These vector-borne diseases have a horrific impact on the world’s poor – increasing school absenteeism and high health costs, hindering economic potential, and causing debilitation and even death.

To draw much-needed attention to these “small organisms that carry serious diseases,” the WHO is raising awareness of vector-borne diseases and their impact on the world’s most vulnerable communities as part of World Health Day on April 7th.

Preventable vector-borne diseases, including schistosomiasis, dengue, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis, disproportionately affect the world’s poor and kill a million people each year.  Protection from these diseases is possible, however, and the Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is working to fight NTDs through coordinated research and development, strategic communications and advocacy efforts.

Sabin’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) is working to raise the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the most common NTDs, including lymphatic filariasis (LF), which is spread by mosquitoes and causes painful and debilitating swelling of the limbs. As part of this effort, we recently announced Abhishek Bachchan as our END7 campaign celebrity ambassador, helping us to raise awareness and reduce India’s high burden of NTDs. 

While medicines help control and treat infectious and neglected diseases, effective vaccines also play an important role in combating vector-borne diseases like dengue fever, leishmaniasis, Chagas diseases and schistosomiasis.

Transmitted by mosquitoes, dengue alone affects nearly half a billion people. As part of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative (DVI), Sabin is laying the groundwork for dengue vaccine introduction in endemic areas by building coalitions amongst health experts and influencing decision makers so that, once licensed, vaccines to prevent dengue can be swiftly adopted.

And, among other R&D work, our Product Development Partnership (PDP) works to identify new strategies for the development of vaccines to prevent vector-borne NTDs like schistosomiasis and leishmaniasis, which affect hundreds of millions of people living poverty and represent leading causes of disability in poor countries.

As part of this work, Sabin’s PDP is also working on a new therapeutic vaccine for Chagas disease.  As part of the  Chagas Coalition, the PDP in collaboration with the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas plays a role in boosting access to diagnosis, treatment and care among Chagas patients and stimulating innovation in new tools to fight the disease.  This Houston-based partnership has also uncovered widespread Chagas disease among the poor living in Texas – kissing bugs that transmit Chagas disease are commonly found and large numbers of both people and dogs are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi.

This World Health Day, join us in building efforts to fight the threat of vector-borne diseases. Check out Sabin’s programs and the important work of our partners, including the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Photo by Esther Havens