Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Heart of Darkness
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Scientists emphasize urgent need for improved disease surveillance and control in the Democratic Republic of Congo
WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 25, 2013 – Following the most deadly conflict since World War II, and nearly two decades of population displacement, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) now may represent one of the world’s highest burdens of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). A lack of surveillance activities and epidemiologic data is a key factor in delaying progress in disease control and elimination programs, scientists reported in an editorial published today in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Based on the limited information available, the researchers found that DR Congo may have some of the highest levels of intestinal helminth infections, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis on the African continent. DR Congo also bears the greatest number of cases of leprosy in Africa and human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) globally. A number of important human viral infections including HIV/AIDS, Chikungunya, Ebola and monkeypox may have also first emerged from DR Congo.
Despite the likelihood of widespread NTDs, there are only minimal reported surveillance activities in DR Congo, a nation that is nearly the size of Western Europe. To strengthen DR Congo’s health infrastructure and ultimately its economic output, the authors propose a comprehensive NTD mapping, control and research program.
“Identifying the reach and severity of NTDs is an essential first step to providing targeted treatments to millions of people in DR Congo,” said co-author Dr. Anne Rimoin, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health. “Increasing surveillance activity of NTDs and studying the emergence of key viral infections should be one of the top health priorities for the country.”
As the authors recognize, the Ministry of Public Health of DR Congo has demonstrated willingness to expand NTD disease surveillance and control activities in the years ahead. With the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), DR Congo is planning an ambitious program of NTD mapping and integrated diseases control focused on mass drug administration, while the World Health Organization, its Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) and the Belgium Development Agency have offered additional support.
“We have a responsibility to better understand the true burden of NTDs in DR Congo,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “Future findings from enhanced disease surveillance and research will help shape and achieve important global development milestones in a country that has missed out on much of the economic and social progress spreading throughout many other parts of Africa.”
To read the full paper, please visit PLOSntds.org.
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.
About the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine
The National School of Tropical Medicine (NSTM) at Baylor College of Medicine is committed to addressing the world's most pressing tropical disease issues. The school applies strong traditions in basic, translational and applied biotechnology research brought by the BCM faculty and staff with the newly affiliated Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin-PDP). The NSTM works in partnership with Texas Children's Hospital, home of the Sabin Vaccine Institute & Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. For more information please visit http://www.bcm.edu/tropicalmedicine/.
About UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research; training future leaders and health professionals; translating research into policy and practice; and serving local, national and international communities. For more information please visit ph.ucla.edu.
About PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (http://www.plosntds.org/) is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal devoted to the pathology, epidemiology, prevention, treatment, and control of the neglected tropical diseases, as well as public policy relevant to this group of diseases. All works published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases are open access, which means that everything is immediately and freely available subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License, and copyright is retained by the authors.