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Investigating obstacles to disease eradication

A woman bathes at a riverbank, while three children play nearby
Photo credit: Andrea Lund
Sep 6 2019
Fellow, Research, Stanford

No drug can cure a paradox. That basic truth is at the heart of a new Stanford-led study highlighting how poverty traps make it impossible to eradicate a potentially deadly disease with current approaches.

The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, looks at why years of mass drug administration in Senegal have failed to dramatically alter infection rates of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease that lurks in waterborne snails and affects more than 200 million people worldwide. It finds that neither drugs nor people’s relatively sophisticated understanding of disease risks can overcome the inevitable exposure caused by imperatives of subsistence living. The researchers call for greater focus on the role of socio-economic and environmental systems, and engaging communities in the design of disease control programs.

“The field of tropical medicine has focused primarily on mass drug administration programs,” said lead author Andrea Lund, a PhD student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources within Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “These have worked in many places, but there are persistent hot spots where you need to come at the problem from social and environmental angles too.”

Lead author Andrea Lund is a 2017 Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow.