In a United Nations meeting last month in Stockholm, Sweden,
researchers warned that 13 tropical diseases -- when taken together --
rank a close second for deadliness behind HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.
relatively neglected tropical diseases kill 530,000 people each year
and disable many millions more, says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and
chair of the Department of Microbiology and Tropical Diseases at George
Washington University "Most of these 13 neglected tropical diseases are
parasitic infections," he says. "They include worm infections --
diseases caused by parasitic worms --such as guinea worm, river
blindness, elephantiasis, hookworm infections, schistosomiasis, and
they include bacterial infections such as trachoma, Buruli ulcer, as
well as leprosy."
Hotez says these infectious diseases retard childhood development
and education and carry disfiguring stigmas. They also largely afflict
the poor in the same rural communities of Sub-Saharan Africa and
impoverished regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia and parts of India
that are infected with HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.
"When an individual gets AIDS or malaria in the developing world,
they -- more often than not -- are simultaneously afflicted with
hookworm and schistosomiasis or river blindness," he says. "This
profoundly affects the natural history of malaria or HIV/AIDS."
says multiple parasitic diseases promote the severity and increased
number of cases of malaria and a more rapid decline among people with
HIV/AIDS. "Treating a mother with underlying parasitic worms, just by
treating the worms alone seems to have a huge impact on reducing the
risk that she will transmit HIV/AIDS to her baby," he says. "In some
cases, treating the underlying worms could have just as big an effect
as anti-malarial bed nets."
Hotez says new data support a more integrated approach to disease
management and control -- especially when multiple diseases are
infecting individuals in the same geographic area: "that we
simultaneously treat these individuals for intestinal parasites, for
schitosomes, for hookworms, for lymphatic filariasis, because doing so
will allow you to be much more effective with your control tools for
HIV/AIDS or malaria, and that will make a significant difference."
Hotez says a cheap and effective treatment for neglected diseases
already exists. "The estimates are that for 40 cents (per) individual,
we can make a very profound impact indirectly on HIV/AIDS and malaria
just by treating the underlying worms," he says.
Hotez says $200 million would cover drugs that could control or
eliminate seven of the tropical diseases in 500 million Africans. "This
is actually an instance where it is not really the money. It is a
little bit the money, but it is more the political will," he says. "It
is educating the organizations that are controlling the 'Big Three' on
the importance of poly parasites."
Hotez says vaccines for certain diseases like hookworm look
promising and could have a huge impact on the "Big Three." "It is
surprising," he says "that those aiming to control HIV/AIDS, TB and
malaria have largely ignored these opportunities."