Expanded Medical Programs Urgently Needed In Pacific

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PNG ‘bearing the brunt’ of bacterial, parasitic infections

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 4, 2013) – A new health report has highlighted the need for urgent expanded elimination programs of neglected tropical diseases in Australia and the Pacific nations.

The tropical diseases concerned are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that are the most common afflictions of the world's poorest people.

They blind, disable and disfigure their victims, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and disease.

The lead author of the report, Professor Peter Hotez, has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia Papua New Guinea is bearing the brunt of the infections in the region.

"More than half the population of PNG is infected by hookworm infection, enormous rates of Strongyloidiasis, skin infections resulting from scabies that's leading to secondary Streptococcal infection, heart disease and kidney disease," he said.

"The rates of the neglected tropical diseases among the poor in the Oceanic region… is as bad as it is in sub-Saharan Africa or South East Asia. So there's a hidden burden of disease in the region that's quite concerning."

Professor Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas, says there are also worrying rates among some of the Indigenous communities in Australia.

He says there are some strategies that can work to fight neglected tropical diseases.

"What has to happen is more aggressive efforts at mass treatment," he said. "What we've found is mass treatments using simple low-cost or donated drugs is one of the best answers.

"There have been pockets of success - we've seen the elimination of Lymphatic filariasis and other diseases and some of the smaller islands."

Professor Hotez is calling on the Australian Government and other regional bodies to make a greater commitment to providing access to medicine to fight neglected tropical diseases.

"They've not really prioritized neglected tropical diseases as much as they should, but in fact our findings are suggesting these are among the most important health problems among the poor in the region.

"What's amazing is that it's so easy to do - we're talking 50 cents a person per year - [which is] a really modest investment. So I think this could be a cure-all for the Australian Government."

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