Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Ironically, Dr. Hotez’ new book, “Forgotten People, Forgotten Diseases” was part of my Thanksgiving fare this year, and served as an excellent reminder of all we do have to be thankful for in our economically more developed countries. Even now, with the rapid decline in our own country’s economic health and a pall on Christmas cheer, his book serves up a valuable dose of perspective.

Dr. Hotez skillfully introduces readers to an array of “neglected tropical diseases” which devastate the world’s poorest populations—2.7 billion of whom live on less than $2 per day. Because of their poverty, these people lack a voice and are largely ignored. Some of the diseases that affect them, such as worms, schistosomiasis, or filarial (elephantiasis) cause debilitating illnesses, are less dramatic and attention fetching than malaria and HIV/AIDS. Dr. Hotez calls much needed attention to a dozen of these diseases.

One of the striking things about this book is how clearly and simply Dr. Hotez explains these diseases and their impact. He also excels at helping readers to understand non-obvious links between poverty, parasitic infections, and HIV/AIDS. This book is therefore surprisingly appropriate for high-school to post-graduate levels of readers. It is an excellent primer, with numerous references for more detailed exploration. For example, Dr. Hotez explains how schistosomiasis, a water-transmitted worm, increases a person’s susceptibility to HIV infection. Anemia from the parasites can impair learning and subsequent income-earning ability. This book is an excellent primer, with numerous references for more detailed exploration.

Each chapter provides an overview of the organism, the illness it causes, and the social and economic impact of each of these illnesses. The accompanying photographs make a striking impression, and they, as well as the other helpful illustrations, have great visual impact.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Hotez and a number of his colleagues speak two years ago at the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases conference. One of the major conference themes, which was new to me although I am an infectious diseases physician, is that 7 major neglected tropical diseases could be eradicated for less than 50 cents per person/per year. Since learning that, I have incorporated some of this material about NTDs into my talks, and the slides for these are available at my site's links.

This book is clearly written and inspirational, and is a call to action. What are we waiting for?

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