Toward a Healthy Future: Working Together to End Neglected Tropical Diseases & Malnutrition

 

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Together with a wide range of experts and advocates from the neglected tropical disease (NTD), nutrition and broader development community, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is excited to launch a new policy brief.

Toward a Healthy Future: Working Together to End Neglected Tropical Diseases & Malnutrition – examines the relationship between NTDs and malnutrition, and the actions needed to address both of these challenges. The evidence linking intestinal worm infections and schistosomiasis underscore the importance of tackling these two problems together:

  • NTDs and malnutrition are geographically linked: all of the 34 countries carrying the highest levels of malnutrition are also endemic for NTDs.  In fact, ten of these countries make up 90 percent of the global NTD burden.
  • Poor nutrition increases susceptibility to parasitic disease infections, while NTDs, like intestinal worms and schistosomiasis, are underlying causes of stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Poor access to water, sanitation and poor hygiene practices are well-known contributing factors to the spread of NTDs

Encouraging work is being done to address these issues. A number of multilateral organizations, governments, NGOs and endemic countries are already implementing programs that deliver treatments for intestinal worms and schistosomiasis alongside other nutrition and health interventions, effectively leveraging policies and delivery strategies. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014, published by the Food & Agricultural Organization, revealed that the children suffering from undernutrition has fallen by 100 million over the last decade. The United to Combat NTDs: Delivering on Promises and Driving Progress report showed that in 2013, nearly 1.35 billion NTD treatments were donated and over 70 countries developed national NTD plans.

While these are important steps in the right direction, a funding gap stands in the way of ensuring that these treatments reach the people who need them. To reduce malnutrition and control and eliminate NTDs, the global health community must build upon this work and scale up deworming alongside nutrition interventions, such as Vitamin A and iron supplementation.

The Global Network’s policy brief calls for international policymakers and advocates to:

  • Recognize the impacts of NTDs and malnutrition and the clear benefits of addressing these issues in tandem.
  • Expand access to routine deworming treatments for all populations at risk, including pre-school- and school-aged children, women of childbearing age and pregnant women through existing treatments and delivery platforms.
  • Include deworming as a strategy to improve health and nutrition for mothers and children
  • Ensure sustainability by simultaneously investing in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and other social determinants of health.
  • Increase resources and link policies that facilitate joint programming and partnerships
  • Mobilize greater political and financial support for NTDs and malnutrition during international and regional fora.

We hope you’ll read the policy brief here, and contribute to the conversation on Twitter by joining our Twitter chat on Wednesday, October 22 at 2:00PM EDT using the hashtag #NTDsNutrition.

How to Ensure we “Leave No One Behind” on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

 

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Today marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This year’s theme, “Leave no one behind,” is especially important to me as an advocate for the world’s most vulnerable populations. As former director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and as a Special Envoy for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), I have called attention to those who are too often left behind: the 1.4 billion people who suffer from NTDs.

NTDs have devastating consequences for the world’s poorest people. They cause anemia and malnutrition, and can lead to blindness, school absenteeism, disfiguration and the loss of livelihoods. Ultimately, NTDs undercut a family’s earning potential, productivity and ability to escape poverty. If we as a global community wish to end poverty, we must control and eliminated NTDs.

In less than a month, the Group of 20 (G20) will gather in Brisbane, Australia to discuss ways to stimulate economic growth among the world’s vulnerable populations. During G20 Summit, world leaders are expected to discuss financial sector reforms, infrastructure and employment opportunities. However, in order to make the largest possible impact on the world’s poor, the G20 should address global health and NTDs.

The G20 should embrace the fight against NTDs and include them among the most cost effective interventions to eradicate poverty and advance its goal to create a “sustainable path for current and future generations.” NTDs undermine the G20’s collective efforts to build human capital, increase employment opportunities, reduce inequality and expand access to agricultural and nutrition initiatives. NTDs can be eliminated by 2020 and the benefits of achieving this feasible goal will be long lasting.

Evidence has shown that debilitating and blinding NTDs such as lymphatic filariasis (LF) and trachoma can significantly affect a person’s income. For example, LF can lead to a 15 percent annual loss in personal income, and trachoma can cause a total potential productivity loss of $5.3 billion annually.

By addressing NTDs, we can ensure more children remain in school, and more women remain employed and empowered. Women with LF in particular, are vulnerable to stigma, social isolation, lost jobs and diminished wages, further embedding them in poverty. And when children are infected with one or more NTD, their cognitive and learning abilities are reduced making them unable to reach their full potential.

On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, I join the Global Network in urging the G20 to recognize NTDs as a key underlying constraint to poverty alleviation and economic growth. In addition, we are urging the G20 to support the inclusion of NTD control and elimination efforts in the final post-2015 development agenda.

In order to ensure that no one is left behind, world leaders must support global efforts to control and eliminate NTDs. Because NTDs already infect the world’s most marginalized populations, we must prioritize their health if we are to end poverty.

For more information on NTDs and the G20, read the Global Network’s report.

Cooperate Across Sectors to Improve Neglected Tropical Diseases and Nutrition Outcomes

 

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By Scott E. Bleggi, Sr. International Policy Analyst, Bread for the World Institute

Scott Bleggi is a senior international policy analyst Bread for the World Institute. Bread for the World Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. The Institute educates opinion leaders, policy makers, and the public about hunger in the United States and abroad.

Controlling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is an important part of improving nutrition, and vice versa. Diseases such as schistosomiasis and intestinal worms result in stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies, and poor nutrition increases susceptibility to NTD infection. Cross-sector collaboration – between the health, nutrition, NTDs and WASH communities – is crucial to achieving nutrition and NTD control and elimination targets. 

Nutrition is a foundational element in human development, and a growing body of evidence shows that it is a vital link across international development sectors. Although nutrition was once solely the domain of public health professionals, development assistance practitioners in agriculture, education, gender, and water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) are realizing that their successful project outcomes can have a direct and positive effect on nutrition.

Does a value-chain project in horticulture or livestock production improve nutrition? What about efforts to keep girls in school an extra year or two before they assume family and village responsibilities? Does improved hand-washing and food preparation hygiene improve nutrition?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!

The number of people in the world affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs listed by WHO is approaching 1.5 billion, and we know now that NTDs can damage a person’s nutritional status at any point in life. Worse, contracting an NTD can cause infection and other problems that cancel out or even reverse efforts to improve nutrition.

As nutrition started to be at the core of development assistance across sectors, it was clear that a comprehensive strategy to coordinate efforts was necessary. In May 2014, USAID announced its Nutrition Strategy. Bread for the World Institute participated in its development, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (advocacy and operational partners of USAID).

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially during the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and impose other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive Global Nutrition Coordination Plan among all U.S. government offices.

The strategy treats nutrition as “multi-sectoral”– meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be made not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and WASH projects. The most important direct nutrition interventions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition, and direct interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. In fact, combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future of reducing stunting by 20 percent in five years in regions where this initiative has programs.

Companion legislative bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would authorize Feed the Future as the government’s primary program for global food and nutrition security. Despite recent improvements reported by FAO, there are still 805 million chronically undernourished people in the world. With legislation, we can solidify U.S. leadership in fighting hunger and malnutrition, build and improve upon vital work that has been done, and leverage a government approach across all sectors and programs to meet specific goals for progress against global hunger and malnutrition.

Blog Action Day: Standing up for the World’s Poor

 

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END7 is participating in Blog Action Day on October 16th — a day for thousands of bloggers to come together to talk about inequality. 

Most people living in the United States and other high-income countries have never heard of diseases like elephantiasisriver blindnesssnail fevertrachomaroundworm, whipworm or hookworm. But nearly one in six people globally, including more than half a billion children, have these diseases – known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Without treatment, NTDs can lead to lifelong disabilities and suffering. Because NTDs largely affect the world’s most vulnerable communities, those already affected by extreme poverty, they are notorious for perpetuating inequality.

Yet ending NTDs is an achievable and realistic goal. All it takes is 50 cents per person per year to treat and protect someone from all seven of the most common NTDs. And with regular treatment, NTDs can be controlled and eliminated for good.

NTDs have devastating consequences for the world’s poorest people. They can lead to malnutrition and stunting, blindness, disfiguration, cognitive delays, lost productivity, poor maternal and child health and social stigmatization.

The links between NTDs and inequality are well documented. For example, an article published in PLOS NTDs revealed that Indonesia’s high prevalence of NTDs could perpetuate inequality within the country, despite its surging economy. NTDs make it hard for parents to make a living, and for children to attend school. These diseases drastically weaken a person’s health and cause unnecessary suffering.

When children and parents become infected with one or more NTD, their potential is diminished; five-year-old Neema was unable to attend school because of intestinal worms – a type of NTD. And Sahr Gando, a father in Sierra Leone, could no longer work and provide for his family when he became infected with schistosomiasis, a painful NTD that can lead to death.

Countries like Colombia and Ecuador have already eliminated the NTD onchocerciasis. And countless other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are well on their way to ending needless suffering caused by NTDs.

By defeating NTDs, we can ensure that the world’s poor have an equal chance. At the basic level, everyone should have adequate nutrition, the opportunity to be educated and the right to prosper and contribute to society. Yet NTDs rob the billion and a half people living in poverty of these basic opportunities and undermine other development efforts. If we wish to end inequality, we must end NTDs. If we wish to address some of the world’s greatest challenges like world hunger, AIDS, poverty and needless suffering, we must end NTDs.

But in order to end NTDs and achieve greater health equity, we must continue to raise awareness and advocate for the control and elimination of these diseases. Ending NTDs must be a priority within the global development agenda and among world leaders. Countries like the United States and the United Kingdom must remain committed, and even increase their commitments, to supporting NTD-endemic countries in their fight against NTDs. Most of all, we cannot remain quiet and take a back seat as more than half a million children continue to suffer from preventable diseases. Stand up against inequality today by pledging to end NTDs.