Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Vaccine diplomacy

Last week's Science has an excellent editorial that suggests cooperation about vaccination research as a potential opportunity for the US to work with the Muslim world. Many of the neglected tropical diseases inflict population in Muslim countries - in fact, members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) account for 40% of the global burden of intestinal helminth infections. Similarly, polio has been eliminated from most of the world, with only remaining cases found in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria (see Between fatwas and polio and "Infidel Vaccine": Polio vaccination controversy in Pakistan). So it makes total sense for the US to help out research institutions in the Muslim world dealing with some of these diseases. This will not only be a smart political move, but will also help advance nascent research programs in the Muslim world and help eliminate some of the nasty diseases from the world:

Although more than one billion people suffer from neglected tropical diseases, the corresponding vaccines have essentially no commercial market, relegating their development to nonprofit product development partnerships funded by sources such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Recently, the pharmaceutical giants Novartis and Merck also initiated global health vaccine development partnerships. But more needs to be done. Joint scientific cooperation between the United States and technologically advanced member countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC)—especially the Asian OIC nations of Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia, and selected Middle Eastern countries—could advance vaccine development for treating neglected tropical diseases in Islamic countries. Indeed, leishmaniasis vaccines are under development in Iran, but these efforts would benefit from greater cooperation with scientific institutions in the West.

I completely agree with the sentiment above - and it would be absolutely fantastic if the US can establish a positive relation with Iran. Even if not Iran, I'm quite hopeful that this kind of cooperation will take shape - and some of the groundwork has already been laid with the appointment by the Obama administration of Science Envoys to the Muslim world, and the Science editorial rightly points to the avenue:

Last year, the Obama Administration launched a new Science Envoy program to Islamic nations to foster scientific collaboration in ways that address economic, social, and ecological challenges.** In that connection, a vigorous new program of vaccine R&D diplomacy could create opportunities for the United States to address the world's most terrible disease scourges while simultaneously creating a new foreign policy venue. The globally beneficial legacy of the oral polio vaccine should spur the United States and its international product development partnerships to connect with scientists in the Islamic world and produce a new generation of life-saving products. The incentive and opportunity to improve international public health, reduce poverty, and promote global security have never been so clear.

What more can be said. Engage! Read the full editorial here.

Also, read these related posts:

Tropical Diseases in the Muslim World

Between Fatwas and Polio

"Infidel Vaccine":Polio vaccination controversy in Pakistan

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