Six reasons to care about NTDs

By: Alanna Shaikh

Okay, I admit that if you read this blog you probably already care about NTDs. Probably. But maybe not. You never know. Maybe you found the blog by searching for Alyssa Milano. (Yes, knows a ton about baseball and is generally awesome.) Or maybe you already care about neglected tropical disease but you’re great-aunt Susan doesn’t and you’d like some easy arguments to convince her that she cares too. Whatever your motivations, I can help. Please find below, six reasons we should all care about neglected tropical diseases.

1.       The “tropics” are getting bigger. Global climate changes means that the natural (hot) habitat for NTDs is growing. The conditions that allow the spread of NTDs are, well, spreading. Mosquitoes have more habitat. So do sand flies, and assassin bugs.

2.       People move around more. Whether it is global migration or tourist travel, people travel the global faster and more often than they ever did before. They bring their infectious diseases with them. Immigrants to Europe and the US routinely need treatment for a whole range of NTDs. Tourists come home from exotic vacations with dengue fever and rabies. And they do it all the time now.

3. NTDs and instability go hand in hand. There is a strong correlation between neglected tropical diseases, violence, and insecurity. The causation probably goes both ways, in a vicious circle. Conflict destroys health systems and leaves people vulnerable to NTDs. People infected with NTDs have lower educational attainment, and are less employable because of chronic illness, which leads to a poorly educated, unemployed population with plenty of time to get involved in conflict and few other options.

4. NTDs hit children the hardest. Even your great aunt Susan cares about children, right? Kids are the biggest victims of NTDs. Their growing bodies are vulnerable to infection and diseases, and they don’t have the ability to take protective measures against getting NTDs. A two-year-old can’t filter her own water to be safe from Guinea worm. A four-year-old doesn’t understand he needs to wear shows from protection from podiculosis. Kids are the most likely to be infected by many NTDs, and then they’re affected the most once they have them.

5. Speaking of kids, NTDs keep kids from going to school. Neglected tropical diseases, in particular, worms, have a major – negative – impact on school performance. Kids don’t get to school as much if they are infected with worms. And, data is inconclusive so far, but it also looks like kids with worms learn less when they do go to school.

6. NTDS are a drag on the global economy. When treated, they cost a lot of money to treat. Not because treatment is especially expensive, but because there are so many people at risk for NTDs. When not treated, neglected tropical diseases are a burden on the economies of countries that are already poor. Eliminating NTDs would be a huge boost to the poorest countries in the world.

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.’ The views and opinions expressed by guest bloggers are not neccesarily the views and opinions of the Global Network. All opinions expressed here are Alanna’s own and not those of any employer or the US government.

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