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Neglected tropical diseases control gets pharma, donor push

Tropical diseases affect the poor and the marginalised, and are controllable and curable infections that deform, disable and kill if left untreated.

lifestyle Updated: Apr 21, 2017 16:31 IST
Sanchita Sharma
The WHO estimates that 2.4 billion people around the world still lack basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines, which give rise to neglected tropical diseases.
The WHO estimates that 2.4 billion people around the world still lack basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines, which give rise to neglected tropical diseases.(Images: Shutterstock)

One billion people were treated for at least one neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) because of the efforts of the world’s biggest government, industry and donor partnership in public health, announced the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the Global Partners’ Meeting on NTDs in Geneva on April 19.

These diseases, which include kala azar, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms such as hookworm, roundworms and whipworms, affect the poor and marginalised, are controllable and curable infections that deform, disable and kill if left untreated.

“WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. “Over the past 10 years, millions have been rescued from disability and poverty, thanks to one of the most effective global partnerships in modern public health”.

In 2012, international partners endorsed a WHO NTD Roadmap, committing additional support and resources to control, eliminate and eradicate of 10 of the most common diseases.

“Good progress, some of these diseases are on track to be done (eliminated) by 2020, some by 2025. Some will take longer than that,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which pledged $335 million over the next four years to fight NTDs.

Over the five day conference, governments and donors pledged US$ 812, with nine drug companies including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Sanofi pledging to donate drugs and treatments till WHO’s NTDs elimination and eradication targets are met.

Once widely prevalent, these diseases are now restricted to tropical and sub-tropical regions with unsafe water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, and poor housing conditions. Poor people living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones are most at risk, with more than 70% of countries reporting NTDs being low or lower-middle income economies.

Around 556 million people received preventive treatment for lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), more than 114 million people for river blindness (onchocerciasis) and 56 million for trachoma, the world’s leading cause of blindness that was eliminated in Mexico, Oman and Morocco.

Only 25 human cases of Guinea-worm disease were reported in 2016, putting eradication within reach; sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) fell from 37,000 new cases in 1999 to well under 3,000 cases in 2015; and rabies deaths was brought down to in the Americas in 2015, bringing the region close to its target of eliminating rabies in humans.

“Vector control, safe water and sanitation are key to control,” said Dr Dirk Engels, Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The WHO estimates that 2.4 billion people still lack basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines, while more than 660 million continue to drink water from “unimproved” sources, such as surface water.

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