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The Case of a Tropical Disease and its Treatment

Science, Society, and Economics

Catherine Dana Santanello
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Jennifer Rehg
Deparrtment of Anthropology
Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville


This case study highlights the epidemiological and socioeconomic factors associated with a disease which plagues thousands of people in Central and South America.  The case follows the story of Adrian, a banana plantation worker in southwestern Costa Rica who develops a mysterious illness.  Students learn about infectious diseases, pathogens, and vectors endemic to the region, and are asked to diagnose Adrian’s illness and consider his dilemma with respect to treatment options.  The case is appropriate for courses with a component in health care, pharmacology, microbiology, medical anthropology, ethnobotany, or epidemiology.  Instructors can choose to focus more on the biological components of the case or more on the socioeconomic and ethical aspects, depending on course goals and subject area.


  • Analyze the complex relationships between disease epidemiology, socioeconomic and cultural variables, and environmental factors.
  • Compare/contrast some of the important endemic diseases of Central America, and particularly of Costa Rica.
  • Identify different variables (symptoms, living conditions, environment) useful in diagnosing a disease.
  • Explain the importance of intermediate hosts in disease transmission and alternative mechanisms for disease control and prevention.
  • Investigate political and socioeconomic factors that affect development of, access to, and utilization of prevention and treatments.
  • Formulate reasons why non-standard medical treatments, such as traditional medicinal plants, are used, and some of the potential consequences of their use.
  • Evaluate the types of evidence that are needed to demonstrate that medical treatments function as intended.
  • Debate the ethical, sociopolitical, and environmental issues associated with the use and ownership of biodiversity, genetic materials, cultural knowledge, and national heritage, specifically with regards to the development of health treatments.
  • Discuss the environmental, political, and socioeconomic impacts of forest resource utilization.


Protozoan disease; infectious; pathogen; vector; Trypanosoma cruzi; Neurolaena lobata; nifurtimox; benznidazole; bioprospecting; biopiracy; ethnobotany; Bribri; Guaymi; Central America; developing world; tropics; Chagas disease; American trypanosomiasis

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program)



Type Methods




Subject Headings

Epidemiology Microbiology Pharmacy / Pharmacology Public Health Botany / Plant Science Anthropology Economics Business / Management Science

Date Posted


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