The Global Health Burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases

The ONE Campaign Germany. Find the English version below:

By: Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

river blindness, a disabling and blinding disease which is transmitted through the bite of a black fly. The flies come from the streams and rivers that keep the land fertile, making the water both a blessing and a curse. However, in 2009, Burundi’s ministry of health found this remote community and with the help of global health partners, delivered enough ivermectin to treat everyone in the area. Leonard Medina, the 37-year-old chief of the community, said that people are now returning to work, children are going back to school, and communities broken by genocide, civil war and disease are finally getting the opportunity to rebuild. Without the heavy burden of disease, the land and the people are getting their chance to flourish.

River blindness is in a group of diseases called the neglected tropical diseases or NTDs. Over 1 billion people around the world are affected by NTDs, most of whom live on less than $1.25 per day (US dollars). One in every six people globally has at least one of the seven most common NTDs. That means that every day, half a billion children are forced to go to school feeling tired and malnourished because of a common parasite infection that leads to blood loss and anemia. Millions of people are slowly losing their eyesight because of an infection that turns their eyelashes inwards, scratching their corneas each time they blink. Millions more are left disabled and disfigured by the swollen limbs and genitalia caused by another all too common parasite. These diseases stigmatize, disable and inhibit individuals from being able to care for themselves or their families—all of which promote poverty.

There’s good news though. We can treat and prevent these seven diseases for approximately 50 cents per person per year (U.S. dollars). Children who receive treatment for trachoma brings us closer to eliminating two of the world’s leading causes of preventable blindness. The benefits of treating and controlling NTDs go beyond improving the health of a community. NTD control can enormously benefit the work force and economic productivity of communities, and treating NTD-infected children throughout the developing world is one of the most important strategies for ensuring universal access to education.

Unfortunately, NTDs continue to receive little attention from the international community, despite the fact that the global burden of the neglected tropical diseases is equivalent to at least half of the combined global burden of HIV/AIDS,TB and malaria. However, starting this year, we hope to bring NTDs to the forefront of the global health agenda. Next week, NTDs will be addressed at the World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany. There you can join me and my colleagues in a discussion about how combining NTD control with control of AIDS, TB, and malaria can strengthen health systems, support economic development and improve nutritional and educational programming for over one billion people living in poverty throughout the developing world.

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