Tropical medicine is the study of the world’s major tropical diseases and related conditions, which include a group of 17 neglected tropical diseases (sometimes referred to as ‘NTDs’) such as hookworm infection, schistosomiasis, river blindness, elephantiasis, trachoma, Chagas disease, Buruli ulcer, and leishmaniasis, as well as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The field also includes related disorders in malnutrition and even some non-communicable diseases.
Although these diseases are referred to as being ‘tropical’ in truth the term is a bit of a misnomer. First and foremost tropical diseases are diseases of poverty. They are the most common afflictions of the “bottom billion” the 1.3 billion people who live below the World Bank poverty level. Although tropical diseases are generally thought of as exclusively occurring in developing countries, new evidence indicates that the poor living in wealthy countries also are affected by tropical diseases. For instance, in the United States, tropical diseases such as Chagas disease, cysticercosis, dengue, toxocariasis, and West Nile virus infection are now widespread.
Tropical medicine is an important component of global health, but it is more focused on the specific tropical infections that occur in resource poor settings, with detailed emphasis on the pathogens, their vectors, how they are transmitted (their epidemiology), their treatment and prevention, and even how to develop new control tools to combat tropical diseases, including new drugs, insecticides, diagnostics, and vaccines.