The 2013 G20 Summit concluded in St. Petersburg last week amid debates on how to respond to the Syrian civil war and recent chemical attacks in the country. What world leaders did not discuss though was another crisis that is happening in Syria and around the developing world at large: an epidemic of cutaneous leishmaniasis and other NTDs.
Leishmaniasis (also known as Aleppo Evil) is an NTD that is spread by the bite of infected sandflies. At best, the disease produces disfiguring lesions on the face and body, which take more than a year to heal and often lead to shame, stigma and social isolation. Leishmaniasis has plagued Syria and other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia for hundreds of years, but efforts to develop an effective vaccine for it, led by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, are relatively new.
Prior to the civil war, leishmaniasis posed a moderate public health threat to Syrians, but its transmission and pathology were tapered through surveillance and the availability of sanitation, insecticidal spraying, beds nets and anti-parasitic therapies. However, as Dr. Peter Hotez recounted in his testimony on NTDs before the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations last June, the conflict and subsequent break down of public health has lead to a resurgence of the disease. While reports cannot be verified, it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 new cases of leishmaniasis across the country and in the growing refugee camps outside Syria.
Beyond Syria and leishmaniasis specifically, NTDs are a slew of 17 diseases that directly impact 1.4 billion people around the world. They not only cause malnutrition, pain, deformity and blindness, but can also prevent people from working or going to school and exacerbate poverty and inequality. NTDs pose a significant threat to the goals of the G20 to promote food security, financial inclusion, and human resource development, as outlined in the St. Petersburg Development Outlook.
“In order to reach these goals, we must address issues that undercut the G20’s efforts to boost sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Amb. Michael Marine, CEO of the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “The G20’s efforts to improve nutrition and help build a skilled workforce will fall short if we do not the tackle other barriers that prevent people from working productively.”
The Global Network welcomes the G20’s emphasis on economic growth as central to boosting prosperity among the world’s poor and its support for the post-2015 development agenda, but human development must be emphasized as a driver of long-term economic growth and poverty reduction.
We hope the G20 will continue to strive to give people across the globe a chance to reach their full economic and social potential, especially by recognizing the impact of NTDs on economic growth and prosperity at the G20 Development Working Group meeting this October in DC. The Global Network will also be watching for NTDs at next year’s summit in Australia, and you can bet that we will be following up. Brisbane, here we come!