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The United States could help reduce the burden of neglected diseases and promote peace by engaging Islamic nations in collaborative vaccine research and development, says Peter J. Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington DC.

During the late 1950s, despite the Cold War, Soviet and US scientists worked together to develop an oral polio vaccine.

The vaccine has been distributed worldwide and has eradicated polio in most of the world, and provides a good example of how 'vaccine diplomacy' can allow nations to set aside their ideological differences to eradicate disease.

President Obama should use his visit to Indonesia later this month to establish new scientific ties to the Islamic world and implement a new era of vaccine diplomacy, says Hotez.

Up to half of the world's neglected tropical diseases occur in Islamic countries such as Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan. Corresponding vaccines have little commercial market, he says, so their development is left to non-profit partnerships funded by organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Scientific collaboration between the United States and Islamic countries — especially technologically advanced ones such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan — would improve vaccine development for neglected diseases in these countries, argues Hotez. This would help reduce the global disease burden and reduce poverty in the Islamic world.

Perhaps more importantly, it would also create a new avenue for foreign policy that could promote global security and peace, he adds.