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AAAS Caribbean Division's 28th Annual Meeting Will Focus on Infectious Disease in the Tropics


School of Health Professions, University of Puerto Rico 
[credit: Carlos Ortiz - University of Puerto Rico]

Infectious diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and dengue fever are an indelible part of the Caribbean region's past as well as its ongoing public health challenges. For instance, the economic development of Puerto Rico and other nations would not have been possible without successful campaigns for the control of these and other distinctively tropical diseases, according to Abel Baerga-Ortiz, who is president of the AAAS Caribbean Division and an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Medical Sciences Campus, University of Puerto Rico.

With the broad implications of these diseases in mind, Baerga-Ortiz and his colleagues in the Caribbean Division have convened experts from the front lines of infectious disease research and prevention, to present new insights at division's annual meeting on 21 September. Held at the School of Health Professions at the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, the meeting is expected to bring together nearly 200 science students, researchers, teachers and members of the public.

"Malaria and schistosomiasis, as well as dengue fever, are still threats in many countries in the Caribbean. The meeting's program is intended to encourage awareness of the regional efforts that are being made by the Center for Disease Control and others to better understand the biology of disease propagation and regional prevalence," said Baerga-Ortiz.

The meeting program will include a keynote presentation by Dr. Gilberto Santiago from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Dengue Branch in Puerto Rico, about the distribution of different variations, or serotypes, of the dengue virus across Puerto Rico. In a subsequent keynote address, Dr. Dionicia Gamboa of Universidad Cayetano Heredia in Peru will discuss her research on the origins and survival strategies of the malaria parasite in Peru. Dr. Gamboa is the recipient of the 2012 Elsevier Foundation Award for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World.


A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can spread dengue fever and other diseases. [CDC/Professor Frank Hadley Collins, University of Notre Dame]

The program will also feature three concurrent sessions.

  • Tropical Fungi: Mischievous Player - A panel of experts, led by Dr. José Pérez Jiménez of the University of Turabo, who will discuss the ways mushrooms, molds and yeasts affect our daily lives.
  • Dengue in Puerto Rico - From the Front Line - Personnel from the CDC's Dengue Branch will provide guidance on how to prevent the propagation of Dengue Fever in tropical communities.
  • A Bug's Life - A View Into the Micro World - Students from the Association of Microbiology at the University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus will take participants through some of the most amazing views of our microbial world.

The conference will begin with a dedication to the work of Dr. George V. Hillyer, a recognized parasitologist and expert on schistosomiasis, which is caused by a parasite common in Caribbean waterways. The presentation of the Annual Lucy Gaspar Memorial Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science and Mathematics will follow. Luz V. "Lucy" Conception de Gaspar was a pioneering Puerto Rican science teacher, mentor, and long-time secretary-treasurer of the AAAS Caribbean Division who died in 2012.

In the afternoon, the conference will feature a graduate student poster session, culminating in the presentation of the annual Robert I. Larus Award for the winning poster.

The conference begins at 8:00 am and requires no registration fee. Scientists in all disciplines, science teachers of all levels, students of all ages, and the community at large are encouraged to participate.

The AAAS Caribbean Division was founded in 1985 to create a hub for AAAS members in all of the islands and countries in the Caribbean region, from Venezuela up through the Dominican Republic and Haiti to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

Most of the division's members live in the Caribbean region, but anyone who is a member of AAAS can join. AAAS has three other regional divisions: the Pacific, with a charter dating to 1914; the Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division, founded in 1920; and the Arctic, founded in 1951. All AAAS members in good standing, and who reside or work within the specified boundaries of a regional division, are automatically included as members of that division.

Learn more about the AAAS Caribbean Division.

Follow the meeting on Twitter with the #AAASCD hashtag.

Read this article in Spanish.