Untold success story: Progress against neglected tropical diseases

  • Don Bundy
  • Updated: Nov 26, 2015 01:35 IST
Since 2012 more than 5.5 billion tablets donated by major pharmaceutical companies have provided 3.5 billion treatments in more than 70 countries. (Photo credits: Shutterstock)

The progress against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is a great untold success story, both in India and globally. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, diseases which for centuries have caused blindness, disfigurement, incapacitation and death are being controlled and in some areas eliminated.

Billions of people are at risk and are being treated. Since 2012 more than 5.5 billion tablets donated by major pharmaceutical companies have provided 3.5 billion treatments in more than 70 countries worldwide.

India and other countries in the region have their own success stories.

The World Health Organisation, national health departments and individual drug companies have for decades mounted campaigns against these diseases. The 2012 London Declaration brought together national governments, global health and development organisations and pharmaceutical companies in a common aim — the control, elimination or eradication of 10 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020.

One of the major outflows has been an unusual collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and the Gates Foundation to increase their donations of medicines.

The successes achieved so far were highlighted this year by the organisation Uniting to Combat NTDs’ report on progress towards controlling or eliminating 10 NTDs by 2020, which said the campaign had achieved a number of world firsts.

“A diverse group of players have come together in one of the largest ever public-private partnerships to deliver the funding, drugs and technical assistance required,” the report said, adding that the huge volume of medicines donated by pharmaceutical companies is “the largest public health drug donation programme in the world”.

Of the 10 diseases targeted by the declaration, five are manageable through mass administration of safe and effective drugs.

Successes are being achieved against each of these diseases, which include trachoma and onchocerciasis (river blindness), the two leading causes of blindness worldwide, and lymphatic filariasis (LF or elephantiasis).

Huge campaigns are also targeting soil transmitted helminths (STH), one of the causes of stunted growth in children, and schistosomiasis (snail fever or bilharzia), which is second only to malaria for its devastating socio-economic and health impact.

India is afflicted by five of the 10 NTDs targeted for control or eradication by 2020.

India is a leading contributor to a decline in cases of LF. India, Bangladesh and Nepal account for the majority of cases of VL in this region. The number of infections has dropped over the past 20 years, and particularly in the years since 2011. India is very much a part of the success story in the global campaign against neglected tropical diseases.

Don Bundy is senior advisor on neglected infectious diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The views expressed are personal.

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