Artist Shelly Xie uses sand and a light box to illustrate Chagas disease and hookworm

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Shelly Xie, a medical student from Texas, combines art and science to shed light on the impact of neglected diseases in forgotten communities.

Using sand and a light box, she touches on the causes and determinants of various infectious diseases, presents several options for addressing these problems, and illustrates the challenges of and burden on the health system.

Shelly began using sand painting to communicate the impact of schistosomiasis in Ghana during her later years at Stanford. Her research and performances build on this experience but further elucidates the role that research plays in facilitating social and economic development.

It is an honor for me to be here with you this evening and be part of the Transformation for Development project, said the artist to the delegates of the 52nd Directing Council. She said she always liked the arts and the sciences, and that in her art she found a way to make information on diseases easier to understand. I hope I can help increase people’s knowledge on issues that affect millions, she added and received a round of applause.

A better future for the new baby

In a rural area in northern Argentina is a couple who relies on farming for their livelihood. They are unaware, however, that the area where they reside is endemic for a chronic disease. Furthermore, they do not realize that when their baby is born, it might be born with the disease or contract the disease. Shelly uses this hypothetical story as the backdrop to her first story, which not only explains the epidemiological aspects of Chagas Disease through “kissing bugs” but explores explore the prevention and treatment techniques. Xie brings up the socio-economic factors at play and shows how interventions including vaccine development and using bed nets hold the key to saving million of lives, and while at the same time, boost local economies within the Americas.

Creating opportunities for the Silva’s

The Silva family lives in a little village in Eastern Brazil called Americaninhas. They live in a small hut with a thatched roof and no toilet. The father, Antonio works in the field cultivating cassava roots. Barefoot, he works through the moist red, soil surrounding the home, but getting through each day is difficult for him because every part of his body that touches the soil itches. He tires easily and suffers from abdominal pains that stop him from working. Likewise, for other members of this family, living is a battle—their children grow very little each year and have problems concentrating in school.

Shelly describes the endless cycle for people who suffer from hookworm infections and the burden the disease causes for families. Hookworm infection reduces earning potential, educational prospects and quality of life for people in endemic regions. It is a disease caused by poverty and contributes to poverty. However, through her story, Shelly shows that there is hope and how research works to end this vicious cycle.

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