Al Jazeera’s Documentary Series Highlights Neglected Tropical Diseases

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In a fight between the world’s worst diseases and the human population, there are those that dream of a world free of diseases and poverty. Lifelines, a global health television series produced by Al Jazeera with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlights the efforts of global health workers and professionals who are vigorously working to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Lifelines’ “River of Hope” documentary highlights the devastating effects of schistosomiasis on poor, rural communities in Senegal. The health crisis started when the Diama dam was built across the Senegal River in 1986. Construction of the dam stopped the river’s flow and created a growing population of infected snails, which left 90 percent of the population living near the river basin infected with schistosomiasis. Schisosomiasis is a water-borne parasite that affects 240 million people in mostly Sub-Saharan Africa and is linked to deadly chronic diseases such as cancer and organ failure.

Lifelines also covered the innovative work of Alassane Ndiaye and Elizabeth Huttinger who are working together on “Project Crevette,” a novel experiment to restore prawns — natural predators of the disease carrying snails — in the lower Senegal River basin to control the spread of schistosomiasis. They plan on convincing political leaders responsible for the Diama dam to build a fish ladder in the dam to allow prawns to maintain their migration upstream where the snails harboring schistosomiasis are heavily populated.

Lifelines also highlighted blinding trachoma and river blindness (onchocerciasis) in the “The End is in Sight” documentary. In Part One of “The End is in Sight,” Lifelines takes us into the Amhara province in Ethiopia, a region that has the highest prevalence of trachoma in the world. Trachoma is an infectious bacterial disease of the eye that blinds approximately half a million people annually. The documentary follows Aba Wolde, an 85-year old citizen of the Amhara region, and his daughter, Amalda. They both have advanced trachoma and must walk over 20 kilometers to a health clinic to receive surgical treatment.

Part Two of “The End is in Sight” takes place in the rural areas of Uganda with a high prevalence of river blindness. River blindness is transmitted by infected black flies and causes severe itching and visual impairment. In 1987, Merck declared that they would donate a medication called Mectizan to treat river blindness for as long as needed through the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP). In Uganda, where about 3.5 million people are infected with river blindness, Dr. Moses Katabarwa introduced an innovative administrative system of mobilizing, educating and providing communities in endemic areas with Mectizan. This approach of mass drug administration (MDA), along with environmental control measures for controlling fly larvae, has produced successful results for eliminating river blindness in multiple regions in Uganda.

Whether you’re an expert in the field of NTDs or someone who is curious to learn more about diseases that keep communities in poverty, we highly recommend that you watch these impactful stories from Aljazeera’s ‘Lifelines’ series.

South-South Cooperation Moves Forward to Free the Indigenous Yanomami People from Neglected Tropical Diseases

 

Photo by Shaan Hurley

Today marks the United Nations (UN) Day for South-South Cooperation — an opportunity for the global development community to examine how developing and emerging countries can share knowledge, exchange best practices and pursue joint projects to generate tangible solutions to development challenges.

As a young officer in the Ministry of Health of Argentina, I attended the first UN Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) where I had the opportunity to witness the launching of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, a blueprint adopted in 1978 that offered guidance and new energy to the concept of south-south cooperation. At the same time, the International Conference on Primary Health Care concluded with the Alma Ata Declaration — a public health milestone that recognized health as a fundamental human right.

It was an exciting time to be a part of these landmarks in public health and see how these principles are being carried out today. A closer look at Brazil and Venezuela’s joint commitment to controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) within the Yanomami community —a nomadic indigenous tribe made up of approximately 35,000 people — spotlights the key role of south-south cooperation in reaching all populations in need of key health interventions. Equally important, this successful model can be replicated within the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region and across the globe.

The Yanomami territory is a remote stretch of tropical rainforests and mountains on the northern border of Brazil and southern part of Venezuela (approximately 19,000[1] people live on the Brazilian side and 16,000 on the Venezuelan side). The combined border area is over 9.6 million hectares — about twice the size of Switzerland — and represents the largest forested indigenous territory in the world. The entire community is affected or at risk for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness.

The high prevalence of onchocerciasis  within the Yanomami community represents the last stronghold of this disease in the LAC region, which has made significant strides towards its elimination, in addition to controlling many other NTDs. Several countries across the region have either launched or implemented national plans to control and eliminate NTDs within their borders. In 2014, Colombia became the first country in the world to eliminate onchocerciasis. These successes underscore the strong political commitments made by regional leaders including the Organization of American States (OAS), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA).

While these are impressive milestones, more work needs to be done to address NTDs within the Yanomami community —  as the area occupied by the Yanomami is regarded as the greatest challenge for interrupting the transmission and making LAC an oncho- free region. Because of their nomadic habits plus their isolated and forested environment, health workers must travel by helicopter or boat to reach them. Many logistical and financial challenges need to be overcome to deliver the required series of treatments.

Here is how south-south cooperation can help address these challenges:

Brazil and Venezuela formalized and agreed to join efforts to tackle this problem in May 2014 during the 67th World Health Assembly. Through this commitment, these two countries will coordinate efficiently the provision of continuous integrated healthcare for affected communities in both Brazil and Venezuela. They will work together to train local community health workers and form bi-national humanitarian teams that will also include local residents to treat the last focus of onchocerciasis in the Americas through the development of integral  healthcare to affected communities on both sides of the border.

Furthermore, these teams will support the creation of a bi-national health model to provide work assistance for Brazil and Venezuela. A technical team of the Brazilian Ministry of Health is working with the Venezuelan Ministry of Health team in order to strengthen and integrate public policy to eliminate onchocerciasis in the Yanomami area.

By harnessing their collective experiences and expertise, I am confident that these countries can successfully work together to end the unnecessary suffering of the Yanomami population — and ultimately help the LAC region see the end of onchocerciasis.

Looking ahead, the post-2015 development agenda dialogue, the BRICS Ministers of Health meeting and the UN South-South Cooperation EXPO offer exceptional opportunities for government officials and development partners to showcase south-south cooperation as a critical, sustainable and successful model to address NTDs and other pressing global health and development challenges.


[1] According to Health Ministry of Brazil, in 2012, the Yanomami territory had 293 small villages that contain 4,550 families from five different ethnic groups, most of them Yanomami. There were 21 thousand of indigenous people living in this region, which 11,600 were located in endemic area.

The Results are In: U.S. Government Investments in Health

 

This post was originally published on the Sabin Vaccine Institute blog.

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Results released by the U.S. Government (USG) in September reveal that since fiscal year (FY) 2009, more than $50 billion has been invested by the USG in foreign assistance for health, saving millions of lives. In particular, investments in vaccines and the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) have significantly benefited some of the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations.

In response to the tremendous toll NTDs have on families and communities, USG efforts have targeted seven of the most common NTDs: lymphatic filariasis (LF), trachoma, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and three intestinal worms (hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm). The NTD Program, administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, reaches millions of men, women and children  with treatment each year working with Ministries of Health and Education and NGO partners — and their vast and well-established community-based distribution platforms.

The report shows that between FY2008 and FY2013, more than one billion cumulative NTD treatments have been provided to at-risk communities.

“As a result of the successful scale-up of treatment in the countries targeted, 40.7 million people no longer require district-level treatment for blinding trachoma, and 79.5 million people no longer require treatment for lymphatic filariasis. Three countries (Cambodia, Togo and Vietnam) have achieved the target of 60 percent of the population no longer requiring lymphatic filariasis MDA [mass drug administration]and three countries (Ghana, Mali and Nepal) have achieved the target of 70 percent of the population no longer requiring district-level trachoma MDA.”

Sabin’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and its END7 campaign have complimented USG efforts in the past. For example, In July 2013, the END7 campaign partnered with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Helen Keller International (HKI) to help support Sierra Leone’s ongoing work to prevent and treat NTDs. END7 donations, totaling over $27,000, helped fund an MDA in the Western Rural Area of Sierra Leone and supported trainings for community health workers throughout the district. More than 50,000 children were treated for intestinal worms.

Alongside the control and elimination of NTDs, the USG is committed to protecting children across the world from vaccine-preventable diseases. Each year, nearly one million children die from pneumococcal infection and rotavirus infection — two diseases prioritized by Sabin.

Encouragingly, as the report states, “as of June 2014, 40 countries have introduced pneumococcal vaccines and 26 countries have introduced the rotavirus vaccine. By 2015, it is projected that the number will grow to 45 countries introducing PCV and 33 will have introduced the rotavirus vaccine.” This is exciting news on the heels of the Eleventh International Rotavirus Symposium held last week in New Delhi, India on September 3 – 5.

To further advance these USG global health priorities, Sabin also supports research and advocacy efforts to raise awareness about pneumococcal disease and encourages the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines worldwide. In addition, Sabin is working on numerous fronts to address the burden of rotavirus and facilitate the introduction globally of a rotavirus vaccine. Through the Rotavirus Organization of Technical Allies (ROTA) Council, a team of technical experts from around the world, Sabin seeks to provide the scientific and technical evidence that policymakers need to accelerate the introduction of rotavirus vaccines.

To read the full results, click here.

END7 Infographic: How NTD Donations Help Endemic Communities Worldwide

 

We here at END7 are always exploring innovative ways to raise awareness about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and to show how donations made to END7 help NTD endemic communities worldwide.  In our featured infographic below, we used the visual elements of comics to create a simple infographic that showcases the impact of generous donations made to END7 to support NTD treatment programs.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all read a few comic books or comic strips in our lifetime. Whether you’ve read comics as a child or still read them today, comics are continually used to effectively illustrate stories and ideas in ways that quickly capture attention. The visual medium of comics combines text and visual images together to simplify complex information and to communicate it in a visually dynamic manner.

In the image above, our aspiring doctor and NTD advocate, “Joy”, explains how 1 in 6 people (approximately 1.4 billion people) are infected with NTDs. She also explains step-by-step how a 50 cent donation helps protect people worldwide from the seven most common NTDs. The pills to treat the most common NTDs are donated by pharmaceutical companies. 100 percent of donations given to END7 support NTD treatment programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, the regions with the largest NTD burdens.

As you can see, a donation for as little as 50 cents stretches a long way towards helping communities suffering from NTDs!

To learn more about NTDs and how you can help end 7 diseases by 2020, visit www.end7.org. Help us show more people how they can help prevent NTDs around the world by sharing this creative infographic with your friends, family, and peers!