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Advances in Tropical Medicine and Global Health Highlighted at A.S.T.M.H. Event

This article was published Nov. 9, 2009, by

The annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene is one of the most prestigious events of its kind and is claimed by its organisers to be "the premier forum for scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health". This year's meeting took place 18–22 November in Washington DC.

The wide-ranging sessions at the 2009 event included the intersection of nutrition and infectious disease, and the clinical aspects of the most highly prevalent neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Both these issues were addressed in pre-meeting courses.

For the first time, the meeting included a global health subsection addressing the impact of globalization on health, health disparities and global health partnerships. The links between global health and security and the economy were also examined.

A symposium discussed the emerging body of evidence suggesting that the changing global climate is already affecting infectious disease transmission patterns – see EarthTimes report.

Malaria specialists took advantage of the conference to repeat their calls for more funding to boost progress towards elimination of the disease – see PR Newswire report.

One encouraging development, reported in a Carter Center presentation, is the success of the Onchocerciasis (river blindness) Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA) in reducing by 31% the number of individuals requiring mass drug administration in six endemic countries: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela. OEPA promotes health education and twice-yearly administration of the deworming drug ivermectin. Dr. Frank Richards of the Carter Center stressed, however, that, "We cannot rest on our laurels. Critical work remains to be done to reach our goal of interrupting onchocerciasis transmission in the Americas by 2012".

Amongst the emerging infections receiving attention at the conference was Nipah virus. The most common mode of transmission of this rare infection, which carries a high fatality rate, is via fruitbats. In Bangladesh, bat contamination of palm tree sap is believed to have been the source of most reported cases. A presentation at the meeting described the successful simple bamboo "skirts" attached to prevent such contamination – see report on Science News.

Other key areas for the conference were:

  • the latest tools for malaria diagnosis, treatment and prevention
  • treatments and prevention tactics for the diseases with the highest global burden
  • the financial impact of infectious diseases
  • H1N1 flu – its impact and vaccine progress
  • West Nile virus.

Media coverage of the meeting focused mainly on malaria, particularly with regard to the appearance of resistance to the main treatment drug, artemisinin, in southeast Asia. Sadly, most of these reports were uninformative and, in some cases, sensationalised. Nevertheless, the media's interest in malaria demonstrates that this one tropical disease does now have the high public profile that it deserves. The aim must be to raise awareness of the many other infectious diseases of poverty.

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