Uniting to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of infectious diseases that affect over 1.7 billion people around the world.
They debilitate, disfigure, and can kill. Uniting to combat NTDs requires a collective investment, interest, backed by dedicated partners, including governments, donors, pharmaceutical companies, non-governmental organizations, academia, and more. These should be aimed at committing efforts to the fight to end the epidemic of NTDs.
NTDs are a group of communicable diseases that are preventable and treatable, yet continue to affect more than 1.7 billion people worldwide, including 1 billion children.
There are currently 20 diseases and disease groups defined as NTDs, including river blindness (onchocerciasis), leprosy, elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), guinea worm disease, rabies and intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths).
NTDs cause immeasurable suffering, commonly affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world, particularly people living in remote communities. NTDs create cycles of poverty and cost developing nations billions of dollars every year.
Research shows that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by NTDs due to their daily routines which consist of high-risk activities, such as washing clothes in water bodies.
Additionally, when NTDs affect someone in a family, the caregiving burden typically falls on women and girls, who are often forced to sacrifice their work or education.
This year’s World NTD Day marks 10 years since the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs brought together pharmaceutical companies, donors, endemic countries, and non-government organisations to push for greater investment and action on NTDs. Since then, key successes have been chalked which include:
- Over 13 billion treatments administered and medicines donated by leading pharmaceutical companies
- 1 billion people reached each year with treatment (from 2015 to 2019, prior to COVID)
- 35 countries have eliminated at least one NTD, bringing the total to 3 countries and
- 600 million fewer people no longer require treatment for NTDs.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening hard-fought progress on NTDs. COVID-19 has affected essential healthcare services across the world, with NTD programmes having been particularly, badly disrupted.
A recent World Health Organisation (WHO) survey indicates that NTD programmes have been among the health services mostly affected by the pandemic. As of early 2021, disruptions had occurred in 44 percent of countries. In 19 percent of countries, NTD programmes were the most severely disrupted health service.
Investments in strong public health systems are, thus, critical to back efforts to end NTDs and build resilience to respond to future pandemics.
The writer is a Neglected Tropical Disease Epidemiologist/Clinical Research Coordinator at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, Sunyani.
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