Neglected for too long

While Ebola continues to devastate West African countries, killing more than 4,000 people since March, two Northeastern professors recently described other challenges the epidemic is highlighting.

Michael Pollastri and Richard Wamai earlier this month sat on a panel at an Ebola education event held in the Cabral Center. The event included lectures by two doctors who had treated Ebola patients in West Africa.

Pollastri, an associate professor of chemistry and the head of the university’s Lab for Neglected Disease Drug Discovery, said one of the first questions he has been asked regarding the epidemic is why there isn’t a vaccination or treatment for Ebola.

He explained that a lack of focus on diseases in developing worlds, such as Ebola, makes it difficult to develop medicines that can treat them. “You can’t ignore a disease for decades and expect that when Americans come home with it that we will have a treatment within a week,” he said.

If any positive is to come out of this epidemic, Pollastri said he hopes it will be an increased awareness to neglected diseases so countries and healthcare providers won’t be scrambling to get resources together if a similar type of event occurs in the future.

Wamai, an assistant professor of African American Studies and an expert on HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases, said many of the countries where Ebola is most prevalent already lack proper healthcare services.

“The challenges that I have predominately seen in the sub-Saharan countries is related to the health systems,” Wamai said. “There is not only a lack of organization and a lack of healthcare workers, but also a lack of infrastructure.”

Similar to HIV treatment in Africa, Wamai said new facilities are being built to treat Ebola patients, rather than the patients being treated at traditional hospitals.

While the global response to treating the outbreak is important, Wamai said he would also like to see more long-term investments in health system infrastructures in places such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“Global activism should be encouraged to support long-term interventions through energized investments,” Wamai said.