The New York Times has an Op-Ed today by Peter Hotez, professor at George Washington University and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Perhaps the world’s most vocal advocate for the control of neglected diseases, Hotez is constantly coming up with creative arguments to engage and connect with a US audience far removed from the diseases in question. Writing in Scientific American last December, for example, he appealed to Americans’ consumption savvy by making the case for a global economic incentive for defeating NTDs and by marketing an investment in their control as a public health “best buy”.
“Now Hotez is trying a different tack to make Americans care. Writing in the Times (”Parasites in Paradise”), he points out that, in fact, Americans are not as far removed from neglected diseases of poverty as many of them might have thought. Leptospirosis lurks in their own big cities, and close to three million African-Americans suffer from toxocariasis, a parasitic worm infection transmitted by dogs. And then there’s the Caribbean, where a host of other parasites all but unknown in “paradise” - Chagas’ disease, schistosomiasis, and hookworm to name just a few - have thrived ever since the slave trade.
And here, Hotez introduces yet another angle, this one sure to resonate with American readers on both sides of the political aisle: disease as vestige of slavery and racism. Indeed, if there’s one thing with the potential to raise awareness through the roof - even for something as obscure and forgettable as “trichomoniasis” - it’s the notion that racism is in some way responsible.
Hotez says most of the neglected diseases in the Caribbean could be controlled or eliminated for an estimated $20 million a year, “a total that is roughly equivalent to one dollar for every tourist who visits there ever year”. He adds that the Sabin Vaccine Institute, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the Interamerican Development Bank, is working to find that funding.
[Prof Hotez was also the subject of a recent TropIKA.net Profile article.]