Bringing neglected tropical diseases onto the world stage

Bringing neglected tropical diseases onto the world stage

Photo Credit: Stephanie Palmer/FHI 360

Can you imagine trying to provide for your family while sick with a disease that makes your eyelashes turn inward and painfully scratch your corneas with each blink? Or attending school when your skin itches nonstop because you are infected with worms? These are some of the challenges that people with neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) face every day.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), NTDs impact 1.5 billion people — almost 20 percent of the world’s population! And while the diseases are especially prevalent in regions like West Africa and Southeast Asia, some poor and rural areas in the United States and other developed countries are also afflicted. NTDs don’t just affect individuals; they also have a huge impact on the global economy, causing billions of dollars in economic losses each year. Yet, because they primarily affect low-income communities, they get very little attention.

Fortunately, that’s about to change, with the first World NTD Day on January 30, 2020.

The good news is that many NTDs are preventable and treatable. Although they can cause permanent disability or death if untreated, treatments for the five most common NTDs — elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), blinding trachoma, river blindness (onchocerciasis), intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths) and snail fever (schistosomiasis) — cost just US$0.63 per person per year. And, agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are working with pharmaceutical companies to leverage donations of NTD medicines. Notably, every $1 invested by the U.S. Government leverages $26 in donated medicines for mass treatment campaigns, essential for the widespread treatment of entire communities.

Our work to eliminate and control NTDs

FHI 360 works in Africa and Asia on the elimination and control of NTDs through projects like Act to End NTDs | West, NTD Support in Laos, End NTDs in Africa and End NTDs in Asia.

Our USAID-funded Act to End NTDs | West project:

  • Supports national activities to eliminate elephantiasis, trachoma and, where feasible, river blindness in 11 West African countries
  • Strengthens country capacity to sustain national NTD programs and maintain treatments and disease surveillance for intestinal worms, snail fever and river blindness

Our Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies-funded NTD Support in Laos project:

  • Assists ministry partners with maintaining control of snail fever and intestinal worms through mass treatment campaigns and disease surveillance
  • Institutionalizes a sustainable NTD response by providing national-level technical assistance and facilitating collaboration among local stakeholders

In addition, FHI 360 supports evidence-informed programming and policymaking as a partner on the COUNTDOWN project, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and led by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Our NTD progress report

  • Ghana eliminated trachoma as a public health problem in 2018 with support from End NTDs in Africa.
  • More than 52 million people in 11 African countries received medicine in 2019 to prevent or cure at least one NTD under Act to End NTDs | West.
  • More than 246 million people received medicine to prevent or treat at least one NTD in six West African countries between 2010­ and 2018 through End NTDs in Africa.
  • Vietnam eliminated elephantiasis as a public health problem in 2018 with support from End NTDs in Asia.
  • Togo became the first country in Africa to eliminate elephantiasis as a public health problem in 2017. End NTDs in Africa supported Togo in validating the elimination.
  • Cambodia eliminated both elephantiasis and trachoma as public health problems in 2016 and 2017, respectively, with support from End NTDs in Asia.
  • Laos eliminated trachoma as a public health problem in 2017 with support from End NTDs in Asia.
  • Laos anticipates eliminating elephantiasis in late 2020 with help from the NTD Support in Laos program.

Why does NTD work matter?

Ending NTDs can alleviate the economic burdens these diseases place on affected countries and improve the quality of life for billions of individuals. The fight against NTDs also addresses inequities, given that people living in poverty and women and girls suffer disproportionately. In Africa alone, eliminating the five most common NTDs would produce an estimated $52 billion increase in productivity in the following 10 years, according to a WHO estimate.

At FHI 360, we believe that no one should suffer from preventable, treatable diseases when medicines are available and often donated. That’s why we are committed to helping countries finish the fight against NTDs, once and for all.

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