Tropical medicine is the study of the world’s major tropical diseases and related conditions, which include a group of 17 neglected tropical diseases (sometimes referred to as ‘NTDs’) such as hookworm infection, schistosomiasis, river blindness, elephantiasis, trachoma, Chagas disease, Buruli ulcer, and leishmaniasis, as well as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The field also includes related disorders in malnutrition and even some non-communicable diseases.
Diseases of Poverty
First and foremost, tropical diseases are diseases of poverty. They are the most common afflictions of the “bottom billion” the 1.3 billion people who live below the World Bank poverty level. Although tropical diseases are generally thought of as exclusively occurring in developing countries, new evidence indicates that the poor living in wealthy countries also are affected by tropical diseases. For instance, in the United States, tropical diseases such as Chagas disease, cysticercosis, dengue, toxocariasis, and West Nile virus infection are now widespread.
Tropical Medicine's Role
Tropical medicine is an important component of global health, but it is more focused on the specific tropical infections that occur in resource poor settings, with detailed emphasis on the pathogens, their vectors, how they are transmitted (their epidemiology), their treatment and prevention, and even how to develop new control tools to combat tropical diseases, including new drugs, insecticides, diagnostics, and vaccines.
Neglected Tropical Diseases
The neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of 17 most common chronic parasitic and other infectious diseases, such as hookworm, schistosomiasis, river blindness, leishmaniasis, and Chagas disease, which represent the most common infections in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Almost all of the world's poor are affected by at least one NTD, and these conditions have been shown to be a stealthy reason why the bottom billion cannot escape poverty. This is especially true for "the bottom billion," the 1.4 billion people who live below the World Bank's poverty level of US$1.25 per day. In addition to the NTDs, malaria remains a devastating tropical infection in the world's low- and middle-income countries with an estimated 500 million cases annually and more than 800,000 deaths.
There are also high rates of neglected infections of poverty (NIoPs) in the United States, especially among African American and Hispanic Americans living on the Gulf Coast, the border with Mexico, Appalachia and U.S. inner cities.
Among the most endemic "tropical" infections are Chagas disease, cysticercosis, and toxocariasis. U.S. citizens are also increasingly exposed to foreign NTDs due to expanded globalization. The enormous impact of NTDs and NIoPs on global health and economics is dramatically disproportionate to the existence of NTD/NIoP-specific research and educational opportunities.
Who is affected by the Neglected Tropical Diseases and Neglected Infections of Poverty?
Three populations are especially vulnerable to tropical infections and the NTDs and NIoPs:
Children suffer from developmental delays, growth failure and reductions in intelligence and cognitive abilities, especially from the high prevalence NTDs such as hookworm and other soil-transmitted helminthiases and schistosomiasis. Malaria ranks among the top three killers of children under the age of five.
Women suffer as a result of tropical infections during pregnancy, including hookworm, malaria, and Chagas disease with harmful effects for both mother and child. Female genital schistosomiasis is a devastating NTD among both girls and women and a stealth co-factor in Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Adult Agricultural Workers suffer from diminished productivity as a result of lymphatic filariasis (LF), onchocerciasis, hookworm anemia, and Chagas disease. India alone loses almost $1 billion in economic losses annually from LF.
Why the National School of Tropical Medicine?
Our school is the only school in North America solely focused on tropical medicine. It was launched in 2011 and is intended to provide a North American alternative to some of the excellent tropical medicine schools and institutes in the UK (e.g., Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) or some of the European institutes of tropical diseases located in Amsterdam (Holland), Antwerp (Belgium), Barcelona (Spain), Basel (Switzerland), and Hamburg (Germany). We run a tropical medicine clinic to treat patients with tropical infections that are widespread and endemic in Texas. We also house one of the only tropical disease vaccine product development partnerships.
Baylor College of Medicine makes an ideal location for the new National School of Tropical Medicine.
Baylor College of Medicine is located in Houston, an international city on the 30th parallel north of the equator. Sharing this parallel with us are three of the world’s largest cities Delhi, Shanghai and Cairo each with over 10 million people and with a combined population of 50 million people, not to mention some other important places in the world, including Jerusalem, Islamabad, Benghazi, Tripoli, Marrakech, Wuhan, Kathmandu, Chihuahua, Riyadh, Shiraz and Baghdad, each within just one, two or three degrees latitude from Houston. New evidence indicates a hidden burden of NTDs in the poorest parts of the United States but especially in Texas and the surrounding Gulf Coast. Among the NTDs now endemic to Texas are Chagas disease, cysticercosis, dengue, leishmaniasis and toxocariasis.
This location combined with a multi-cultural population – one in five Houstonians were born outside of the United States – makes Houston an international city. Houston's entrepreneurial spirit has made it the energy capital of the world and given rise to global companies in a wide array of industries.
As home to the largest health care complex in the world, the Texas Medical Center, Houston is also an international destination for medicine and research drawing patients, doctors and scientists from throughout the world.
Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital have launched extraordinary initiatives in global health including the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children's, launched in 1996 under the leadership of Dr. Mark Kline and the Texas Children's Center for Global Health led by Dr. Michael Mizwa.
Baylor Global Initiatives further broadens a worldwide presence by expanding academic partnerships across the globe and providing a centralized infrastructure for global health clinical, educational and research activities throughout the College.
Beyond Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's, the National School of Tropical Medicine's location in Houston will also support affiliations with other Texas organizations including Texas A&M University; University of Houston, Rice University, and The University of Texas.
What's new in tropical medicine?
Keep up to date on the latest developments in the field by following Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the BCM National School of Tropical Medicine.
Training in Tropical Medicine
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Free CME Activity
A Zika Virus Baylor CME activity is now available at no charge. This activity is approved for 1.0 hours of AMA PRA Category I credit.
Tropical Medicine Research Guide, compiled by the Texas Medical Center Library