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Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Middle East and North Africa

Posted by aburaddad on 18 Nov 2009 at 07:29 GMT

Response to PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases Article:

The Neglected Tropical Diseases and Their Devastating Health and Economic Impact on the Member Nations of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, by Peter J. Hotez

Hotez’ article on neglected tropical diseases and their devastating health and economic impact in the Islamic world brings an important and relevant point to the debate about the lack of sufficient funding to control neglected tropical diseases in the Islamic World despite the presence of resource-rich countries in the region. Nevertheless, the dilemma of funding public health programs in resource-poor countries in the Islamic World is not dissimilar to the dilemma that exists outside of the Islamic world. Resource-rich countries, such as those in the Gulf Region, have to balance their health spending with their public health needs and priorities. The disease burden in these countries is similar to that in Western countries with limited infectious disease burden. Therefore, spending tends to be geared towards degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Despite this limitation, several resource-rich countries in the Islamic World are moving towards more emphasis on addressing regional public health needs. In Qatar in particular, Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar (WCMC-Q), which was established in 2001, is helping to address public health needs in Qatar and the region. The physicians graduating from our college are trained to some extent to recognize and address the infectious disease burden in resource-limited settings. Faculty at WCMC-Q are conducting research projects that address some infectious disease priorities in the Islamic world and in this capacity are actively engaged as advisors to international organizations involved in public health such as the World Health Organization, Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, and the World Bank.

The authors of this letter are involved in several research projects on the epidemiology of infectious diseases, including both neglected tropical diseases and other infections with a more global occurrence and higher regional disease burden such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. For example, the authors are engaged in the HIV Biological Cofactors Project studying the role of neglected tropical diseases such as schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, other helminth infections, and leishmaniasis, in addition to malaria and tuberculosis, in amplifying the fulminant HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, which includes several Islamic states. Funded generously by the Qatar National Research Fund, this project is evidence of the level of commitment in this country to address public health needs well beyond its borders.

Last but not least, the main challenge in scientific research in the Middle East and North Africa is not lack of funding, but lack of scientific capacity and human capital. Our institution was established only within the last few years. It is unfair to expect that institutions such as ours, with still small, though rapidly growing capacity, can address issues beyond their means. Having said that, Qatar in particular is open to the region and the world and offers, through the Qatar National Research Fund, generous funding for quality scientific research projects addressing all subject areas, including neglected tropical diseases. Through the National Priority Research Program, investigators from all around the world are welcome to submit collaborative research proposals that prevent tropical diseases not only in Arab and Islamic countries, but in all other underprivileged countries. Funding decisions are determined by the scientific merit of the proposal in an internationally-conducted peer-review process.

Laith J. Abu-Raddad*, Ghina Mumtaz, and Ramzi A. Alsallaq
Infectious Disease Epidemiology Group
Weill Cornell Medical College - Qatar
Qatar Foundation - Education City
P.O. Box 24144
Doha, Qatar


No competing interests declared.