Strengthening Global Health Systems: The Quintessential Win-Win

May 12th, 2010 by Global Network for NTDs Leave a reply

** Were excited to announce that Alanna Shaikh will be a regularly contributing blogger to End the Neglect. Look out for her weekly posts!

By: Alanna Shaikh

Because I am the kind of person who does these things, I was reading the WHO World Health Statistics 2010 report today. Out of 168 pages, there was a paragraph and a half that talked about NTDs. About nine sentences. I guess that’s why we call them neglected? I would have liked to see a little more information if they collect the data, why not share it? A whole page or two, say, does not seem like too much to ask. That being said, it was an interesting paragraph and a half and I guess a report that attempts to cover health on the whole planet is going to have to be brief.

 The WHO reports that more than a thousand million (a billion to we Americans) people are affected by neglected tropical diseases. They don’t break the number down – I’d love to see the details but they do go on to report some good news. 2008 levels of dracunculiasis are very low – 4,619 – and leprosy is also at a low with 213,036 cases reported. It’s a nice reminder that we really can make progress on NTDs when we put in the effort and resources.

 Unfortunately, there is also plenty of bad news “In 2008, 2600 million people were not using “improved” sanitation facilities, and of these 1100 million were defecating in the open, resulting in high levels of environmental contamination and exposure to the risks of worm infestations…” That is a whole lot of people with no good place to defecate.

 In addition to depressing us and being pretty gross, the sanitation numbers make an important point. Sometimes fighting NTDs isn’t just about NTDs. Improving access to improved toilet facilities and clean drinking water would have an impact far beyond neglected tropical diseases. It would also decrease diarrheal diseases; reduce the spread of fecal-borne illnesses like cholera and hepatitis.

 When you are advocating awareness of specific diseases – especially unsexy ones that only merit a paragraph and a half in major global health reports – it’s easy to think that you stand alone. But the fact is, basic global health interventions help everyone. Strengthening health systems means vaccinations, disease surveillance, and access to health care, which has an impact across the board, not just on NTDs. The same is true of water and sanitation efforts. They make a difference to everything. Global health is not a zero-sum game, and it never has been. If we get our interventions right, we can advance global health for everyone.

 If you want more information on NTDs that the WHO was able to provide in the 2010 statistical report, there are some great resources out there. Here at the Global Network, we’ve got handy fact sheets on each NTD as well as an extremely snazzy interactive map. And the WHO does have plenty of resources, including an interesting news feed with updated disease reporting data. For more technical resources, the Public Library of Science has a journal on neglected tropical diseases that is free to all.

Alanna Shaikh is an expert in health consulting, writing about global health for UN Dispatch and about international relief and development at Blood & Milk. She also serves as a frequently contributing blogger to End the Neglect.


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    • The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is a major advocacy and resource mobilization initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)--a group of disabling, disfiguring, and deadly diseases affecting more than 1.4 billion people worldwide living on less than $1.25 a day.
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