“World Water Week” at Yale held its first event Tuesday night with a panel discussion on how an academic framework can help combine education and medical research to fight water diseases.

The student group Yale United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is holding several events this week aimed at raising awareness and encouraging discussion about water-related diseases and ways to provide access to clean water, said Yale UNICEF president Nell Meosky ’14. Kristina Talbert-Slagle, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Public Health researching infectious diseases, and Epidemiology professor Durland Fish, an expert of vector borne diseases, spoke to around 15 students about the challenges of combating malaria and West Nile Viruses and attempts to treat water.

According to Fish, little progress in lowering the prevalence of vector-borne diseases has been made in recent decades because of limited funding for research. He added that the efforts to address vector-borne diseases are concentrated on medical treatment, rather than an “environmental” approach that emphasizes improvements in both education and sanitation.

He said “meaningful progress” can be achieved if social activists and medical researchers collaborate, adding that universities such as Yale bring these types of people together.

Both speakers agreed that there is little chance of eradicating vector-borne diseases such as malaria and West Nile Virus because these viruses can survive in both humans and non-humans.

Talbert-Slagle said the eradication of smallpox was possible because the virus was contained to only humans and outbreaks could be treated, whereas controlling mosquitoes and other carriers is next to impossible. Even if residents of developing countries are educated about the dangers of vector-borne diseases, they will always still be vulnerable to diseases.

“You have to have water to live,” Talbert-Slagle. “It’s not really talked about how these pathogenic organisms have evolved to [benefit from] our need of water.”

Students in attendance interviewed noted that while water-borne diseases are not significant problems in developed countries, they understand that the challenge of providing access to clean water is a pressing issue in many countries.

Christian Maxwell ’14 said raising awareness about these matters is crucial since solutions are simple provided that sufficient funding is available.

Tuesday’s event was co-sponsored by Yale UNICEF and Yale’s chapter of United Against Infectious Disease. World Water Week at Yale is running from March 19 to March 24.