Confronting Neglected Tropical Diseases In The Caribbean – Living Legacy Of Slavery

Professor David Molyneux, President of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, has called (17 June) for much greater international recognition of the problems caused to the poorest people of Latin America and the Caribbean by Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which he has described as the living legacy of slavery.

“These are the group of diseases which afflict the poorest of the poor, producing disabling and sometimes disfiguring conditions,” he said. “They represent a burden far greater than malaria or TB”.

Speaking at the House of Lords in London at a dinner function to raise funds to combat the NTDs for the Grenada-based research institute WINDREF (Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation), he added that “although new funds have been announced, there are serious concerns that the small island states of the Caribbean, in particular, will be overlooked. It should be pointed out that many of the NTDs that now occur in Latin America and the Caribbean were first brought there during the Atlantic slave trade – so the NTDs represent a tragic living legacy of slavery. We therefore have a moral obligation to confront them with much greater vigour.”

The function included the announcement of the Mike Fisher Memorial Award 2008 to Lord May of Oxford, formerly Chief Scientific Adviser to the government, for distinguished services to science. Mike Fisher, who died in 2005 in Grenada, discovered Ivermectin in the 1970s – one of the main drugs used today in the treatment of NTDs.

“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) refer to the benefits of controlling HIV/AIDS and malaria, but are vague about the many other diseases suffered by the vast majority of the poor,” said Professor Molyneux. He pointed out that while 2008 is half way to the MDG target date of 2015 “in many, if not all areas, progress has been depressingly ineffective”.

Speaking at the function, the Director of WINDREF, Dr Calum Macpherson, described the institute as being “uniquely placed to address the problems of NTDs in the region”. Collaborative programmes involving WINDREF included streptococcus spp infections and rheumatic fever in St Vincent and the Grenadines; lymphatic filariasis, sanitation and intestinal parasitoses in the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Guyana ; and studies on the potential elimination of soil transmitted helminths and bilharzia from the Caribbean region.

The host of the function, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, President of WINDREF, said that many of the NTDs prevalent in the Caribbean “can be treated or prevented by the use of donated or extremely cheap drugs. The NTDs sap the energy and blunt the willpower of the poor on a massive scale. They bring stigma, disability and reduced educational prospects”.

Notes

– The Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of 13 major disabling conditions that are among the most chronic infections in the world’s poorest people. These parasitic and bacterial infections include three soil-transmitted helminth infections, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, dracunculiasis, schistosmiasis, Chaga’s disease, human African trypanosmiasis, leichmaniasis, Buruli ulcer, leprosy and trachoma.

– Examples of NTDs in Latin America and the Caribbean: lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) is endemic in Guyana, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Brazil; intestinal worms, which remain endemic throughout all the islands of the Caribbean; and schistosomiasis, which is endemic in several smaller nations such as Suriname.

WINDREF (Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation) was founded in 1994 to seek to advance health and environmental development through multi-disciplinary research and education programmes. WINDREF, located on St George’s University True Blue campus in Grenada, promotes collaborative relationships between internationally recognised scholars and scientists.

Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation

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