Fighting neglected diseases 'means uplifting livelihoods'

21Oct 2020
The Guardian
Fighting neglected diseases 'means uplifting livelihoods'

​​​​​​​The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally over 1.76 billion people still require interventions against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD).  Bilharzia  and  worm infections including round worm, whip worm and hook worm  are the most prevalent NTDs in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to reports every year Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) cause the loss of 17 million healthy life years (or disability free life years) of which 40 per cent is in Africa.

A report Reducing the burden of parasitic worms in sub-Saharan Africa released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a research and analysis division of The Economist Group highlights.

The majority (86pc) of global schistosomiasis cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and 26 per cent of soil-transmitted helminthiasis cases.

The two diseases caused a loss of about 2.1 million healthy life years in 2017. The ill health caused by these diseases hampers adults' ability to work, and could adversely impact children's schooling, says the report.

The report that profiled Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe says eliminating morbidity and mortality from schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis in these four countries could boost their GDP by $5.1 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms by 2040.

In addition, there could be gains of $1.2bn (PPP) in income among school-age children in these countries over the same period once they enter the workforce, as the elimination of ill health associated with these diseases could improve their ability to learn and attend school.

Despite availability of effective tools and proven strategies for control of the two NTDs, until recently very little was being done for most of these diseases, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The most recent WHO roadmap for NTDs (2021-2030) sets targets for the elimination of both schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis as public health problems by 2030. Once this is achieved, the countries will need to eliminate transmission to stop these diseases returning.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a diverse group of tropical infections which are common in low-income populations in developing regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. They are caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa and parasitic worms (helminths). These diseases are contrasted with the big three infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria), which generally receive greater treatment and research funding.  In sub-Saharan Africa, the effect of these diseases as a group is comparable to malaria and tuberculosis. NTD co-infection can also make HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis more deadly.

In some cases, the treatments are relatively inexpensive. Some pharmaceutical companies have committed to donating all the drug therapies required, and mass drug administration (for example, mass deworming) has been successfully accomplished in several countries.  However, preventive measures are often more accessible in the developed world, but not universally available in poorer areas.  

Within developed countries, neglected tropical diseases affect the very poorest in society. In the United States, there are up to 1.46 million families including 2.8 million children living on less than two dollars a day. In countries such as these, the burdens of neglected tropical diseases are often overshadowed by other public health issues.

These diseases are common in 149 countries, affecting more than 1.4 billion people (including more than 500 million children)  and costing developing economies billions of dollars every year.