"That's where you have Zika, and Zika arose out of there not by coincidence but because of poverty," he said.
Hotez said recent data also shows that Catholic countries "are disproportionately suffering from these diseases," and stressed the need for the Church to be involved as part of the solution.
Pope Francis has made his "intense drive to do something about poverty" known, he said, adding that if we want to take on poverty, "the most cost-efficient way to do it is to take on the poverty-promoting disease."
He voiced his hope that the Church would take action in addressing the problem of NTDs, advocating to G20 leaders to promote medical treatments that already exist and to push for further research and development to come up with vaccines.
One strong sign of the Church's commitment to the fight against NTDs was the presence of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin at the conference, who "seems very committed to this," Hortez said.
Increased collaboration with Cardinal Peter Turkson and his new dicastery for Integral Human Development is also part of the plan, he said, explaining that Sabin Institute will likely be providing "the background information and being a conduit for that dicastery to make it actually happen."
"The action that I would like to see is engagement by the Church of the G20 leaders. And if anybody can do it, it's this Pope."
Pope Francis spoke to conference participants on the last day of the gathering, telling them that each person, "above all a person who suffers, because of a 'rare' or 'neglected' disease as well, without any hesitation deserves every kind of commitment in order to be welcomed, treated and, if possible, healed."
He praised the efforts of doctors and researchers in looking for solutions and further cures, and stressed the need to care for the environment in order to better care for the poor.
"The relationship between these diseases and the environment is decisive," he said, noting that while many of the diseases have a genetic cause, for others "environmental factors have a major importance."
"Even when the causes are genetic, a polluted environment acts as a multiplier of damage. And the greatest burden falls on the poorest populations," he said, stressing the need to have greater respect for "our common home."
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He also spoke of the need for justice in the sense that while care for those suffering from rare or neglected diseases typically centers around an impersonal, doctor-patient relationships, "it is equally true that the approach, at a social level, to this health-care phenomenon requires a clear application of justice, in the sense of 'giving to each his or her due.'"
This basically means "equal access to effective care for equal health needs, independently of factors connected with socio-economic, geographical or cultural contexts," he added, and assured of his prayer and blessing for all those suffering from disease, as well as those present and their work.
Elise Harris was senior Rome correspondent for CNA from 2012 to 2018.