Rising dengue cases disproportionately affect children in U.S. territories

April 17, 2023 – In U.S. territories in the Caribbean, cases of dengue are on the rise in children because of inequities in the effects of climate change and the accessibility of vaccines, according to experts.

Dengue, a potentially life-threatening infection, is considered by the World Health Organization to be a neglected tropical disease. According to an April 10 article in USA Today, cases in children are increasing in tropical regions where the disease is endemic. Studies have estimated that 51% of children in the U.S. Virgin Islands and 44% of children and teens in southern Puerto Rico have had a previous infection.

Experts said that climate change could be contributing to the rise of dengue cases, since the mosquitos that transmit the virus thrive in hot and humid weather. One of the experts quoted in the article was Gaurab Basu, a health equity fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a faculty affiliate at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. “Communities in the global south contribute to climate change much less—orders of magnitude less—than developed countries. And yet, they’re bearing the burden,” he said.

“Climate change, at its heart, is a global health inequity turbocharger,” Basu added. “It is causing the fault lines of inequity around the world to increase in impoverished communities.”

Basu noted that while the first-ever dengue vaccine became available last year, some companies that develop vaccines and therapeutics are focusing on U.S. travelers, rather than on people living in the places most affected by disease. “There’s a major global inequity issue of what vaccines we manufacture and distribute, and the cost of vaccines and our delivery systems,” he said.

Read the USA Today article: Why children in US territories are ‘bearing the burden’ of neglected tropical disease

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