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Editor’s choice

From the range of articles recently featured on, Editor Paul Chinnock offers a personal selection of items of particular importance.

Archive for August, 2010

Aug 19 2010

Individuals count

Posted by: Paul Chinnock - Editorial Team

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Efforts to combat the infectious diseases of poverty continue to expand and reports frequently on the launch of new initiatives, the activities of institutions, the importance of empowering communities, and the need to create networks. It is all too easy to forget that progress, nevertheless, requires contributions from individuals. Few have contributed as much as Mariano Levin, best known for his work on Chagas disease, who died earlier this year. A Profile [1] reviews his life and his legacy.

We have also over the last few weeks reported on a number of new initiatives. These include the wonderfully named “This Wormy World” – an open-access information resource on the distribution of soil-transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis [2]. Also launched is a new organization that seeks to accelerate the development of new pharmaceutical products for the diseases of the developing world – formerly part of the George Institute and known for its influential G-FINDER survey, Policy Cures [3] has progressed to become an independent entity.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has long been a major player in malaria research and control programmes. It now intends to develop a new “malaria business plan” [4] and has begun a public consultation as part of this process.

In the USA, the announcement of the start of a dengue vaccine trial [5] comes at the same time as news of plans to start trials with a vaccine for leprosy [6]. Vaccines, drugs and other new tools are of course much needed, but so often things go wrong when it comes to delivering them to where they are most required. Praziquantel is a cheap and effective treatment for schistosomiasis, but less than 10% of school-aged children at risk are reached by disease control programmes [7].

But disease control programmes can be made to work. The global eradication of dracunculiasis (guinea worm) is drawing closer with further progress reported from West Africa [8]. Only in the southern Sudan is the relative lack of progress a cause for concern.

Research continues to highlight new research findings that are of particular interest. Recent examples include epidemiological research that has made possible the completion of a global map showing populations at risk of vivax malaria [9], molecular biological findings that bring new understanding of the metabolism of the malaria parasite [10], and studies in Australia that suggest that wild mammals may play a part in the transmission of Buruli ulcer [11].

But such research often seems a long way from the delivery of effective care. How interventions are brought to the individuals who need them also requires study. Much neglected, for example, is the role played by the retail outlets (often unlicensed) through which the majority of Africans obtain their medicines. A new systematic review [12] finds that little study has been made of efforts to improve the service such shops can offer. Nevertheless, there is some encouraging evidence that training programmes do help.

Paul Chinnock