Combating diseases of poverty requires joint US-Middle East effort, Baker Institute expert says

David Ruth
713-348-6327
david@rice.edu

Jeff Falk
713-348-6775
jfalk@rice.edu

Combating diseases of poverty requires joint US-Middle East effort, Baker Institute expert says
Hotez: Now is the time to engage in scientific diplomacy to produce a new generation of life-saving vaccines

HOUSTON – (Nov. 28, 2012) – As the Middle East emerges from the Arab Spring, the United States and the Middle East have the unique opportunity to relieve the burden of tropical diseases shared by the poor in their respective countries, according to Dr. Peter Hotez, the fellow in disease and poverty at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Hotez shared his perspective on this topic in an op-ed online and is available to speak with media.

Hotez said profound poverty promotes both conflict and disease. Today an estimated 200 million people living in the Middle East and neighboring Pakistan – one-third of the total population of these areas – survive on less than $2 per day. “It may come as a surprise to many that almost 4 million Americans live at a similar level of poverty,” he said.

“New evidence indicates that the extremely poor people in the United States and the Middle East and Pakistan suffer from some of the same neglected tropical diseases. These include murine typhus, which is transmitted by fleas from rats; brucellosis, caused by unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals; leishmaniasis, spread by the bite of the sandfly; toxocariasis, caused by the larvae of worms; and the arboviral infections caused by dengue and West Nile virus, which disproportionately affect people who live in severe poverty.”

He said relieving the burden of tropical diseases shared by the poor in the United States, the Middle East and Pakistan through vaccines and other biotechnologies could help bring the countries together through scientific cooperation. The current diplomatic strains between the U.S. and many Middle Eastern countries should not be a deterrent for cooperation, he said. “If the United States and the Soviet Union could cooperate on a polio vaccine during the Cold War, surely scientists in the United States and Middle East and Pakistan can do the same,” he said. “Now is the time to engage in scientific diplomacy to produce a new generation of life-saving vaccines. Such diplomacy goes beyond political borders.”

Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, head of the Section of Pediatric Tropical Medicine and the Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics. Hotez is also president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research, where he leads a partnership to develop new vaccines for hookworm, schistosomiasis and Chagas disease. He also co-founded the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases to provide access to essential medicines for millions of people worldwide.

The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media who want to schedule an interview with Hotez. For more information, contact Jeff Falk, associated director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

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Related materials:

Hotez biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/personnel/fellows-scholars/photez

Founded in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston ranks among the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks globally and top 30 think tanks in the United States. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute sponsors more than 20 programs that conduct research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows and Rice University scholars. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blogs.chron.com/bakerblog.

About Jeff Falk