Defining the Neglected Tropical Diseases: Research, Development, and Global Health Equity, 1970-present

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 9:00am to Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 6:30pm

The “neglected tropical diseases” (NTDs) are a cluster of infectious diseases categorized by their impact on an estimated one billion people in 149 countries worldwide.  These diseases are generally characterized by their high morbidity and low mortality and are strongly associated with poverty.  NTD-focused campaigns have accelerated rapidly in the past two decades, with U.S. funding alone topping $887 million since 2006.  Regional elimination or global eradication are often the end goal of these initiatives, coordinated by local and global NGOs, development organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and national ministries of health.  The stakes of success or failure are high – in the twenty-first century, the NTDs have become a powerful operative and imaginative category in global public health.   

This workshop seeks to catalyze new conversations on the history, present, and future of the (NTDs) in an innovative, multi-disciplinary gathering.   The multi-sectorial nature of NTD work provides a unique opportunity for dialogue between scholars and practitioners in the humanities, social sciences, public health, law, and medicine around the complex challenges these diseases present. Pre-circulated papers will be discussed on a series of panels on Monday, April 1.  On Tuesday, April 2, participants will gather for 1) a roundtable discussion on key areas of research on the NTDs in wider perspective and 2) an open plenary conversation on futures of research and collaboration. 


Defining the Neglected Tropical Diseases: Research, Development, and Global Health Equity, 1970-present 

UCIS – Global Studies Center 

Prof. Mari K. Webel, History, Convener 

NTD initiatives and advocates explicitly take aim at addressing health disparities that have been created or sustained by policymaking and research priorities in the past.  But while a sense of history underlies the NTD category, there is urgent need for critical conversations and interdisciplinary scholarship on the category’s origins, its evolution, and its current and future trajectories. Workshop participants will discuss research in progress and ideally engage broader questions, including: what watershed moments have shaped ideas and practices around the NTDs, and why?  How have new ways of thinking about illness, suffering, knowledge, and equity developed around the NTDs since the 1970s?  How can scholars and practitioners critically engage with the concept of “neglect” and how this contingent and subjective status is established or resolved?  What are the implications of the “tropical” for public health policy and practice in the 21st century?  How has the cutting edge of NTD research changed in the past decades, and why?  How do NTD initiatives compliment or compete with ongoing infectious and non-communicable disease interventions, and with what consequences?  How can critical scholarship and practice orient to the diverse priorities of communities targeted by NTD initiatives?   


Download a PDF of the Conference Schedule


Monday, April 1 

Unless otherwise noted, all workshop events will meet in Posvar Hall 4130. 

 9:00-11:00am  Panel I – Histories and Presents of NTD Interventions 


Thoughts from the History of TDR, Measles, and Hepatitis B 

Noémi Tousignant 

Wellcome University Award Holder and Lecturer, Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London 


Historical Perspectives on Hookworm as a Neglected Tropical Disease 

James L.A. Webb, Jr. 

Emeritus Professor, Colby College and Fulbright Visiting Professor, University of Botswana 


Parasites, Priorities, and the Advent of the NTDs 

Mari Webel 

Department of History, University of Pittsburgh

Department of History,
University of Pittsburgh

Discussion – Michael Dietrich, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh




11:30am-1:00pm Panel II – Valuing Lives, Measuring Neglect: Economies of Global Health 


The Problem of Neglect in Global Health: Political Economy, Emotions and the Everyday 

Joao Nunes 

Department of Politics, University of York 


The Racial Valuation of Treatment 

Matiangai Sirleaf 

School of Law, University of Pittsburgh Law School 


Discussion – Emily Wanderer, Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh  


1:00-2:00pm Break 


2:00-4:00pm Panel III – Interventions and Priorities: the NTDs at Work 


Exploring the Neglected Tropical Disease Governance in Indonesia 

Viona Sari 

Department of Social Policy, University of Edinburgh 


Overcoming Neglect: Biomedical Commodities for Malaria and Their Consequences 

Kirsten Moore-Sheeley 

Program in the History of Medicine, Cedars-Sinai/UCLA  


Neglected Tropical Diseases and Justice in Health Research Priority-Setting 

Danielle Wenner 

Department of Philosophy, Carnegie Mellon University 


Discussion – Mari Webel, History, University of Pittsburgh 


4:00pm Roundtable Conversation: Gaps and Possibilities in Studies of the NTDs 


Tuesday, April 2 


9:30-10:30am Discussion: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives on the NTDs 


11:00am-1:00pm, Posvar 4217, Plenary:  Futures of Research/Collaborative Possibilities on the NTDs 


6:30pm Keynote Lecture:  Historical Epidemiology and Global Disease Challenges 

Public Health G23 (Public Health Auditorium) 

Prof. James L.A. Webb, Jr. 

Emeritus Professor, Colby College and Fulbright Visiting Professor, University of Botswana 

Author of The Long Struggle Against Malaria in Tropical Africa (Cambridge, 2014) and Humanity’s Burden: a Global History of Malaria (Cambridge, 2008). 

Historical epidemiology—the study of past disease control interventions and their impacts on the dynamics of disease transmission—holds the promise of creating a more robust and more nuanced foundation for global public health decision-making by developing an empirical record from which we can draw historical lessons. It can unearth past successes and failures in order to suggest alternative or hybrid approaches to the control of epidemic or endemic disease processes. What should be done to institutionalize its practice?  


Mari Webel
University of Pittsburgh, Department of History
Veronica Dristas
University of Pittsburgh, Associate Director Global Studies Center
Evan Kalember
Logistical Coordinator, Global Studies Center