July 19, 2011

Washington, DC – July 19, 2011 – Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which primarily affect poor people in developing countries, are now being found among the poor in relatively affluent regions as well, particularly in parts of Eastern Europe with a history of war and conflict. This is the focus of a new article in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases authored by Dr. Peter Hotez, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and Meredith Gurwith of Georgetown University.

Specifically, areas of conflict in Eastern Europe continue to suffer from the adverse health effects of poverty brought on by weakened economies and disenfranchised populations. People living in the Balkans and the former Soviet bloc countries are most vulnerable to being trapped in a cycle of poverty that is exacerbated by NTDs, particularly ethnic minority groups and immigrants. Among the prevalent diseases profiled in the article, the following was highlighted:

  • Soil-transmitted helminth infections are commonly found in Turkey due to extreme poverty and poor sanitation; symptoms include severe abdominal pain, malnutrition, and fever. Among children, developmental and cognitive delays have been associated with these infections, leading to decreased school attendance and low wages earned as adults.
  • In less affluent areas of Eastern Europe, human consumption of beef and fish infected by parasites have increased the prevalence of the food-borne helminthiases. In the same region, the protozoan infection trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease, is severely under-reported.
  • Zoonotic bacterial infections, or infections contracted from animals, are of particular concern due to increased animal movement and worker migration from Greece and Turkey. Animal and human migration has led to a re-emergence of diseases that were once under control, as well as outbreaks.

Hotez and Gurwith have identified policy recommendations on what can be done to control NTDs in efforts to alleviate disease burden among affected populations, including monitoring helminth infections and bacterial zoonoses in Eastern Europe to ensure that these diseases are closely tracked. This surveillance includes identifying causes of disease transmission within European borders, increased public health education among individuals most affected, and improved water and sanitation.

Addressing these diseases will present a good opportunity for international collaboration, the authors note. Several helminthic and protozoan infections are present in both the U.S. and Europe. Working together, these regions can collaborate on neglected disease research and development efforts to create new tools for control, such as animal vaccines, which also be effective in the fight against NTDs.

“Approximately 165 million Europeans live below the poverty threshold. Many of these people are susceptible to the diseases we discuss in this paper and are put at an unfair economic disadvantage as a result,” states Dr. Peter Hotez, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “These diseases can be easily controlled with close surveillance, cooperation among regions, and investment in research and development of new tools. We can help break the cycle of poverty for populations that suffer most from NTDs and provide them with the chance to improve their economic conditions.”

About NTDs
NTDs are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that are the most common afflictions of the world’s poorest people. They blind, disable and disfigure their victims, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and disease. Research shows that treating NTDs lifts millions out of poverty by ensuring that children stay in school to learn and prosper; by strengthening worker productivity; and by improving maternal and child health.

About Sabin Vaccine Institute
Sabin Vaccine Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of scientists, researchers, and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering caused by vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin works with governments, leading public and private organizations, and academic institutions to provide solutions for some of the world’s most pervasive health challenges. Since its founding in 1993 in honor of the oral polio vaccine developer, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to control, treat, and eliminate these diseases by developing new vaccines, advocating use of existing vaccines, and promoting increased access to affordable medical treatments. For more information please visit www.sabin.org.

Media Contact
Richard Hatzfeld