NTDs in the Heart of Darkness



Flick user Julien Harneis/ CC

We often hear about the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the news. The country has suffered from nearly two decades of violence, resulting in more than 5 million lives lost and hundreds of thousands of refugees. The toll that violence exacts on DRC is devastating, but there’s another major issue that is rarely discussed in the media.

DRC is home to some of the highest levels of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the world, as reported in a new editorial published today in PLoS NTDs.

The paper was authored by Dr. Anne Rimoin, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, and Dr. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. They write that “despite the public health importance of DRC’s NTDs, there is much more that we do not know than we do know about both the high prevalence NTDs and the emerging viruses in the Congo Basin.”

Noteworthy points include:

  • There is strong evidence that DRC has some of the highest levels of intestinal helminth infections, elephantiasis and schistosomiasis on the African continent.
  • The country bears the greatest number of cases of leprosy in Africa, and African sleeping sickness (human African trypanosimiasis) globally.
  • There are only minimal reported surveillance activities in DRC, a nation that is nearly the size of Western Europe.

Drs. Rimoin and Hotez call for improved disease surveillance to understand the total reach and severity of NTDs in DRC, which they argue is a crucial first step for providing treatment to those that need it and which is currently lacking there.

Check out the editorial here for a more detailed look at “Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Heart of Darkness” and an exploration of current and planned measures for their control.

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About Amy Alabaster

Amy is a communications intern for the Global Network and the Sabin Vaccine Institute. Before joining Sabin, Amy worked as a writer for the NIH Research Matters publication and as an NIH Fellow for the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research. She has an M.S. degree in biochemistry from the University of Arizona.

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