Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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NIH Fogarty grant funds study of link between infectious diseases and sustainable agriculture

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Justin Remais, associate professor of environmental health, and  a colleague at University of South Florida's (USF) College of Arts and Sciences have received a five-year, $2.5 million research grant from the Fogarty International Center to study the interaction between  infectious disease transmission and agricultural practices in the Senegal River Basin.

"Together, infectious diseases of poverty and the need to sustainably feed 9 billion people in the next 50 years represent two of the most formidable ecological and public health challenges of the 21st century," says Remais. "Identifying sustainable approaches to increasing agricultural productivity, without increasing the risk of infectious disease transmission, will be essential to improving both global public health and environmental quality."

Agriculture is rapidly expanding in tropical developing countries, and this is precisely where the risk of parasitic disease emergence is greatest and also where disease surveillance is limited.

Remais and his USF colleague study the parasites that cause human schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease that affects more than 200 million people globally.

Preliminary research indicates that environmental changes, including agricultural expansion, can affect the transmission of the flatworm that causes schistosomiasis.

People with schistosomiasis infections can experience anemia, impaired growth and development, and in some cases, fibrosis of the liver and bladder cancer.

The global health impacts of the disease are substantial, disproportionately impact the global poor, and strongly reinforce poverty in tropical and subtropical areas of South America, Africa, and Asia. Yet the linkage between agricultural practices—particularly the use of herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers—and the transmission of schistosomiasis in endemic areas is poorly understood.

"Our results will improve decision-making at the interface between sustainable agriculture and human disease control in a region with limited resources and significant malnutrition and infectious disease," Remais adds. "This project will provide a model for how transdisciplinary, international research on the ecology and epidemiology of infectious diseases can improve global health."

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