In contrast with infectious diseases in First World countries from viral and bacterial agents, diseases in the tropics largely result from a very different group of agents: the protists (single celled animals) and helminths (worms). The disease burden of infectious and parasitic diseases in the tropics is truly alarming and they continue to be the scourge of socio-economic development, entrenching many populations in grinding poverty by causing prolonged illness. For protists, the greatest culprit is malaria which is present in 140 countries placing some 3.2 billion people at risk, while for helminths 650 million people are at risk of schistosomiasis.
Collectively both diseases reap the greatest havoc in sub-Saharan Africa where several additional diseases are worthy of mention: protists – trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis and babesiosis; helminths – lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis.
Nearly all of these diseases may be routinely diagnosed by microscopic examinations of blood, stool or urine specimens. The microscope, in good hands, continues to be an invaluable and cost-effective aid for disease diagnostics in the tropics and the World Health Organisation continues to regard microscopy as the ‘Gold Standard’, particularly for the diagnosis of malaria. The Newton microscope will therefore be an indispensable aid for the health worker in remote locations and in ‘first point of call’ health centres in the developing world.
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