An Unbearable Anguish for Children with NTDs

Have you ever really thought about what the commonly used ation words – stigmatization, ostracization, disfiguration, inflammation, impoverization – actually mean when describing the burden of NTDs on preschool and school-aged children?

Here’s just a glimpse of what life can be like for kids suffering from one or more NTDs:

  • Missing out on precious playtime and classroom learning because of fatigue, malaise, and excruciating chronic pain in the intestines, genitals and limbs.
  • Feeling ashamed because scarring on the skin, and especially on the face, is impossible to ignore – a devastating reality for kids who just want to fit in.
  • Dealing with infection after infection, not necessarily understanding what’s going on with their bodies but knowing that something is horribly wrong.

As a new Archives of Disease in Childhood “Global trends in neglected tropical disease control and elimination: impact on child health,” by Global Network’s Drs. Gregory Simon and Neeraj Mistry, Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Dr. Peter Hotez and Baylor College of Medicine’s Meagan Barry, reveals, millions of children living in extreme poverty are suffering from the grave impact described above because NTD control programs, including mass drug administration (MDA), have not yet treated even close to the targeted percentage of at risk people.

Consider some of the staggering facts they point out for the NTDs most common in children:

  • Soil transmitted helminth infections (STH) – ascariasis, trichuriasis, hookworm infection: “In 2011, 875 million children lived in high-risk areas worldwide, of whom about 30% are preschool age children and 70% school age children.” In fact, “in sub-Saharan Africa alone an estimated 50 million school-aged children are infected with hookworm.”
  • Schistosomiasis (snail fever): “In 2011, 243 million people lived in high-risk areas, including 112 million school aged children, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa.” Unfortunately, “infection in the infant and preschool age groups is also increasingly being recognized and documented.” Yet, “of the 112 million school children in need of preventive chemotherapy for schistosomiasis in 2011, only 16 million received treatment.”
  • Trachoma: “WHO estimates that in 2010, 325 million people lived in areas endemic for C trachomatis, and more than 21 million people were actively infected. In hyperendemic areas, 90% of preschool age children may be infected.”

Although lymphatic filariasis (LF) and onchocerciasis are more often found in adults, they still infect children:

  • LF: “LF is now recognized to be an infection often contracted in childhood Children under 10 years of age have prevalence rates around 30% of the adult prevalence rates, while those 10-19 years-old have approximately 69% of the adult prevalence rate.”
  • Onchocerciasis (river blindness): “The rate of infection among adolescents is often high and community directed treatments typically include children.”

Suba Fodey, 6Despite this relatively bleak analysis of the problems posed by NTDs in children, the authors are optimistic that we “may be able to reduce or eliminate the tremendous NTD disease burden in children globally.” Public-private partnerships (PPPs), expanded MDA and preventive chemotherapy programs, greater pill donations from pharmaceutical companies, the development of new drugs and the creation of new vaccines (Sabin is working on developing hookworm and schistomiasis vaccines) all offer real solutions.

Given that it takes just 50 cents to treat one person against these seven NTDs for an entire year, there’s no reason that children should have to suffer any longer.

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