By: Alanna Shaikh
How do I think of NTDs, let me count the ways…
- As a social justice issue. The neglected tropical diseases exemplify unfairness on a global scale. NTDs disproportionately affect poor countries, and within poor countries they affect poor people. Among poor people, they disproportionately affect women and children[i]. NTDs are an assault on the members of our global community who are already living the most difficult lives and have the fewest resources to overcome the challenges of disease infection. Often disabling and disfiguring, the NTDs affect people already at risk for social exclusion – women and poor people – and push them even further to the periphery.
- As an economic issue. More than a billion people suffer from NTDs diseases with symptoms like severe pain, blindness, extreme swelling of the limbs, fatigue, cognitive impairment, and anemia. That has a serious economic impact on the countries where NTDs are endemic. One example: NTD-related reductions in agricultural productivity results in billions of dollars lost every year. A billion here, a billion there – that kind of thing starts to add up. If that amount sounds overblown to you, remember that there are a billion people with NTDs. If they each lose ten dollars because of their infection, that’s a ten billion dollar loss right there. And NTDs, as mentioned affect women, children, and men working in agriculture.
- As low hanging fruit. Living with NTDs is expensive; preventing and treating them is comparatively cheap. Many of the NTDs are tool-ready, which means that they already have effective treatments, and just need financial support to get those treatments to people who need them. Other NTDs are on the verge of having effective treatments or vaccines, but need additional investment to get them there. And I don’t mean huge amounts of additional investment. The Sabin Vaccine Institute[ii]is working on vaccines for hookworm and schistosomiasis right now.[iii]
- As a community governance problem. You know what ended rabies as a public health problem in the United States? It wasn’t rabies shots; it was local governments intervening to reduce stray dog populations. so many pharmaceutical companies donate the drugsor provide them at low cost. It is, however, difficult to organize. You need people to trust their health care facilities to give them drugs for no apparent reason, you need providers trained to give them drugs, and you need a logistics structure to get the drugs there on time. And don’t forget water supply – once you’ve improved a water source, you need the structures in place to make sure it doesn’t get infected with waterborne illnesses. That’s all about community government.
[i]And small farmers, because of their contact with soil and water.
[ii]Which hosts this blog and pays me to write for it, thus making me love them a great deal.
a hookworm vaccine for your dog. Why? Because rich people in the wealthy world have pets and are willing to pay for things like a canine hookworm vaccine. What about humans helping other humans?
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 necessarily 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.