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Students join push to end neglected tropical diseases

by Joe O’Connell

A group of North­eastern stu­dents has joined the cru­sade to bring an end to the 17 neglected trop­ical dis­eases that affect more than 1 bil­lion people around the world.

Called NEU END7, the group has been working since October to raise aware­ness of NTDs and help erad­i­cate the seven most common trop­ical infec­tions by 2020.

The young human­i­tar­ians will also work to raise money for an existing treat­ment plan that requires people to take four pills once a year to pre­vent infec­tion from the seven most common NTDs. The treat­ment costs just 50 cents per person.

“We are trying to raise aware­ness that these dis­eases are out there,” said Adam Swatt, S’15, pres­i­dent of NEU END7, which will soon be offi­cially rec­og­nized as a stu­dent group. “We want to edu­cate people that while these dis­eases are causing real prob­lems, they are also easy to fix.”

NEU END7 formed in the fall, fol­lowing a pre­sen­ta­tion at North­eastern by Emily Conron, stu­dent coor­di­nator for END7, the Global Net­work for Neglected Trop­ical Disease’s grass­roots fundraising and aware­ness campaign.

Since its incep­tion, the North­eastern chapter has gained rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the stu­dent advi­sory board, hosted a 5K fun run, and pre­sented its work at RISE: 2014, Northeastern’s Research, Inno­va­tion, and Schol­ar­ship Expo.

Swatt said one of the group’s goals is to incor­po­rate NTD edu­ca­tion into campus life, such as by par­tic­i­pating in Global Health Week and cre­ating co-​​ops related to NTD research. In July, two stu­dents in NEU END7 will travel to Ghana to work on co-​​op at the Kumasi Centre for Col­lab­o­ra­tive Research in Trop­ical Med­i­cine. One co-​​op will focus on lab work, while the other will be pri­marily field work.

Swatt, for his part, learned about the eco­nomic impact of NTDs while on a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram in Kenya, where he immersed him­self in the country’s cul­ture. There, he saw that NTDs limit devel­op­ment in under­de­vel­oped coun­tries by pre­venting stu­dents from going to school and adults from working.

“That dia­logue moti­vated me to work on erad­i­cating NTDs,” Swatt said. “Not only could I make a health difference—I real­ized I could make an eco­nomic and polit­ical dif­fer­ence too.” For his work with NEU END7, Swatt was named END7’s national stu­dent of the month for April.

Found pre­dom­i­nantly in Africa, NTDs are caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bac­teria, pro­tozoa, and helminthes, according to the World Health Organization.

The stu­dent group’s work builds on Northeastern’s focus on NTDs aware­ness and research. In 2009, asso­ciate pro­fessor of chem­istry and chem­ical biology Michael Pol­lastri estab­lished Northeastern’s Lab­o­ra­tory for Neglected Dis­ease Drug Dis­covery. Richard Wamai, assis­tant pro­fessor of African Amer­ican Studies, researches health sys­tems, HIV/​AIDS, and NTDs. Wamai, who serves as NEU END7’s fac­ulty adviser, is cur­rently leading the public health and devel­op­ment Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram in Kenya.

“Down the line we are hoping to incor­po­rate research into our organization’s goals and help stu­dents take advan­tage of what is already being done at North­eastern,” Swatt said.

Originally published in news@Northeastern on June 4, 2014

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