I read this morning that Peter Hotez, currently the chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine at George Washington University will be moving to Baylor where he will become the inaugural Dean for the new National School of Tropical Medicine to be founded there. That is right…I said the National School of Tropical Medicine…this will be the only school in the United States fully dedicated to tropical medicine, so I guess that does make it the national school!
Last summer, Peter published an editorial in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) calling for the creation of such a school. Over the years I have come across a few of these schools in London, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Basel, and Liverpool, all of which were founded about a decade ago around the time that the world was opening up to more and more global travel and trade and the European Colonial powers had strong presences in “the tropics”.
When I decided to do my Masters in public health I applied to 4 schools: Harvard SPH, Columbia SPH, Hopkins SPH and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (which rejected my application). In Peter’s editorial, I learned that once upon the time the final exam at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was once:
Students were asked to describe the methods for demonstrating the Widal Reaction in typhoid and Mediterranean fever and for purifying water on the march; to distinguish between the Anopheles and the Culex mosquito and the different filarial embryos; to diagnose leprosy, syphilis, lupus and malaria; and to describe the recommended treatments for cholera and Dhobi itch. The laboratory practicum tested for competence and little more. Students were asked to describe the steps to identify an unknown broth in a test tube, to stain blood samples for revealing the malarial parasite, and to identify abnormalities and determine the stage of infection based on microscopic specimens.
Clearly the 2 years that I spent at the Harvard SPH were focused on very different things than the curriculum of that school a decade ago: I have never heard of the Dhobi itch…let alone know how to treat it. I do vaguely remember how to identify a broth from my microbiology days but that would be it. I suspect the graduates of that school today would also not be able to do any of these things, which is a testament to how much the world has changed and how we think about health care issues in the developing world today. But clearly a lot more can be done when it comes to tackling the NTDs – they remain a challenge even today.
Peter also wrote:
…I believe there remains a strong need to have a centralized facility in North America for training in tropical medicine, i.e., one that embraces whole-organism biology of key NTD pathogens, new and appropriate health technologies and their introduction into global public health practice, and clinical tropical medicine.
To that I would also add a strong need for an understanding of the socio-economic factors that are associated with the infection and control of the NTDs and also a focus on the ways in which health systems are able to tackle these scourges.Share on Facebook