Dengue is rising in North America

Funding is still insufficient to eradicate Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Photographic image of a blue particle of the Dengue virus.
For a decade, sporadic cases of dengue in central Mexico have been increasing. In the image, we can see a particle of this virus. (Illustration: Getty Images)

Neglected diseases are far from being forgotten. Leprosy, malaria, dengue, and other diseases continue to afflict communities worldwide, particularly in America.

Adolfo Martínez Palomo, a distinguished medical researcher and member of the National College, reviewed the importance and necessity of addressing the so-called Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) at Tec Science Summit 2023.

In fact, in 2022, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) observed a significant increase in the number of cases and deaths from dengue in the Americas region compared to previous years.

This behavior has continued in the first weeks of 2023 and, in some countries, it has become even more pronounced, resulting in an overload in health services.

Dengue and Chagas: current diseases

Martínez Palomo emphasized the importance of prioritizing the eradication of diseases such as Chagas and Dengue fever, which are increasing in places and conditions where they were previously absent.

“These diseases have been around for many years. Some have been present in Mexico for three centuries, and because they’re considered ‘diseases of the poor,’ there’s no interest or industrial incentive to produce medications or vaccines,” he says.

Furthermore, these diseases can have long-term health consequences and spread globally, particularly with the changes brought about by the climate crisis and global warming.

Science for facing the NTD challenge

Martínez pointed out that the lack of economic incentives to produce medicines or vaccines, as well as limited terms of government officials and politicians, which are typically four to six years, contributes to the neglect of this problem.

That’s why research and strengthening of health systems are necessary to address these neglected diseases, which Martinez prefers to call “Priority Diseases”.

“Education is fundamental. The research on these illnesses to find better alternatives, better medicines, and better vaccines has been forgotten. We need to become aware of this again,” said Martínez.

His proposal includes a multidisciplinary effort among research centers, health institutions, and governments to promote public policies to solve NTDs regardless of whether they affect the poor or the rich.

North America and the Dengue fever

An example of the continued significance of addressing neglected diseases is the ongoing spread of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that has affected cities throughout Mexico and the United States for several years.

Also, in February 2021, an increase in cases of diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue was reported in the Río Grande Valley in the southern United States, as well as in more than 220 counties in 28 states.

Not treating neglected tropical diseases poses a risk to public health, which, although not comparable to the Covid-19 pandemic, could lead the medical sector to face a new crisis in some regions.

One of the main risk factors is climate change and the environmental crisis that keeps the world’s temperature constantly rising.

This situation has significantly increased the risk of the proliferation of these diseases, not only in developing countries such as México and Latin America but also in the United States and regions of Europe.

“It is not only in isolated areas. There are increasingly favorable conditions for the development of some of these diseases, and as climate change continues, rain patterns change and temperatures rise, they will strengthen,” said Martínez.

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Asael Villanueva