Research Article: The Role of Medical Students in the Fight to Control Neglected Tropical Diseases: A View from Peru

Date Published: September 24, 2008

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Javier Villafuerte-Galvez, Walter H. Curioso, J. Jaime Miranda, Sara Lustigman

Abstract: None

Partial Text: Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is a term that might not ring a bell among the majority of our fellow medical students. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines NTDs through a list of 15 diseases, all of them infectious, ancient, and debilitating [1]. Despite vast consensus on which are and which are not considered NTDs, the precise inclusion criteria are as hard to define as global health [2]. Nevertheless, we believe that three basic features that characterize NTDs are high burden of disease in certain specific contexts, neglected from prevention and control—including drug development, and long-term impairment among those suffering from them. Neglect is the central idea, because not only do these diseases sicken the historically neglected populations, but they also have long been neglected from the axis of research, innovation, and production. The objective of this essay is to describe and promote training opportunities on NTDs to medical students, especially in Peru and Latin America. We will describe two medical student organizations and how they are organized to address NTDs. Finally, we will suggest three methods—curriculum, research, and information dissemination—of raising awareness of NTDs among medical students in Peru.

Medical students worldwide have been exposed to NTDs in different ways. In Peru, from the WHO’s list of the main 15 NTDs, some of them could be deemed familiar to the medical students, i.e., trachoma, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, soil-transmitted helminths, and leprosy. In addition, medical students who took part in extracurricular clinical, research, or community activities might be exposed to cholera/epidemic diarrheal diseases and dengue/dengue hemorrhagic fever.

As Gavin Yamey has rightly pointed out, “one problem facing the community working on controlling NTDs is the lack of communication between the various players—researchers, policymakers, clinicians, public-private partnerships, donors, and patient advocacy groups” [13]. This disarticulation unfortunately includes medical students. Nevertheless, as they will be the future clinicians, researchers, and leaders of organizations, they should constitute one of the ideal targets for any NTD sensitization strategy.

Most of the medical student research in Peru—including NTDs research—is descriptive and, although necessary, is not yet enough to produce effective and efficient interventions or technologies that could have impact on people with NTDs. Efforts in that direction should be energetically encouraged and financially supported. The few initiatives already developed by medical students require resources and political support from academic, public, and private organizations to secure progress in the field.

NTDs are a group of conditions that should matter to medical students because of their impact in the most neglected sectors of society. Nonetheless, the global discourse of NTDs requires local nuances to make the message relevant to specific contexts. By taking advantage of organized medical students’ structures, or shaping ongoing activities in training, research, and publication, we have the potential to develop a more cohesive and stronger message about NTDs among Peruvian medical students.



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