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December 2008 Edition

Communicable Diseases
PAHO Joins IDB, Sabin Institute to Fight Neglected Diseases

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is teaming up with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Sabin Vaccine Institute to address the problem of neglected diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Representatives of the three institutions met at PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C., in mid-December to discuss the burden of these diseases and a proposal to create a new Latin American and Caribbean Trust Fund for the Prevention, Control, and Elimination of Neglected and Other Infectious Diseases.

Presenters at the meeting noted that more than 210 million people suffer from diseases such as intestinal worm infections, river blindness, leprosy, Chagas' disease, rabies, and schistosomiasis. Because these diseases affect primarily the poor, they have too often been given low priority in national health programs. However, presenters noted that cost-effective technologies are available to control and even eliminate many of them.

"We have the tools and the interventions, and I believe that it is possible to eliminate some of these diseases within five to 10 years," said Jarbas Barbosa, manager of PAHO's Area of Health Surveillance and Disease Prevention and Control.

The health effects of neglected diseases include anemia, blindness, malnutrition, impaired childhood growth and development, damage to internal organs, long-term physical disability, and premature death. The diseases have a major negative impact on children's cognitive development and worker productivity, as well as quality of life.

"It is an ethical imperative that we increase the effort to control and eliminate these neglected infectious diseases," said PAHO Director Mirta Roses.

Peter Hotez, coordinator of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and president of the SabinVaccine Institute, noted that international agencies have focused most of their poverty-fighting efforts on Africa and Asia, even though more than 100 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live on less than $2 per day. He
said neglected diseases are "a perfect storm against the potential for life and development," severely limiting the physical and intellectual potential of millions of children.

Participants in the meeting expressed concern that the current global economic slump could threaten efforts directed at neglected diseases "We need more than ever to maintain the momentum against neglected diseases," said Kei Kawabata, sector manager at the IDB.

Ximena Aguilera, coordinator of PAHO's Project on Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases, discussed plans by PAHO and its partner agencies to perform detailed epidemiological mapping of neglected diseases in the Americas to establish baselines for elimination efforts. She noted that there are areas of overlapping incidence of a number of these diseases, and the soiltransmitted intestinal worms are likely present in all countries of the region.

Participants said elimination of many of these diseases is possible given sufficient resources and political will.

Participants in the meeting included representatives of the U.S.Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for Rabies Control, and others.

 
 

 
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