Globally, more than half a billion children are infected with neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), hindering their development and ability to learn. Parasitic worm infections like roundworm, hookworm and whipworm, deprive children of the essential nutrients they need to grow and act like, well, the rambunctious children they’re supposed to be!
Instead of being able to walk to school, concentrate in class and socialize with friends, they’re suffering from severe anemia, malnutrition, fevers and intestinal pain caused by these often chronic and simultaneous infections.
Studies have shown that deworming children can reduce school absenteeism by 25 percent, while other leading economists have found that combining deworming programs with other health interventions in already-existing schools is one of the best public health investments out there. This summer END7 worked with the ministries of health and education in Honduras to support a program that treated more than 1 million school children.
It costs approximately 50 cents to treat and protect one child against the seven most common NTDs for a year. But that’s not all we need to ensure that this generation’s future politicians, mathematicians, teachers, peace builders and problem solvers get to class.
We need you. With your support, you can help us at the END7 campaign build awareness for these devastating infections and their cross-cutting solutions. By watching this short video and sharing with your friends, you can help so many kids get the education they deserve.
Three to four hours. That’s how long one mother was willing to walk to make sure her child attended the annual vaccination and deworming campaign in the village of Coyalito in San Esteban, Honduras.
This past April was my third trip to Honduras in the last 14 months. On my first two trips, I spent the majority of my time running between government offices and meetings – including attending the launch of the Honduras national integrated plan on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Honduras was the first country* in Latin America and the Caribbean region to launch such a plan – which ensures that the country is tackling all diseases at once – versus one at a time.
This time on my return to Honduras, I saw firsthand how that plan was being put into motion.
And I was amazed.
For a country facing severe challenges in security and violence, Honduras is a leader and innovator when it comes to tackling NTDs.
Three government divisions – the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development are working together to reach people in even the most remote parts of the country. They’ve taken charge by developing working groups to tackle issues and problems they notice when bringing the programs to the community.
They’re enthusiastic. They’re driven. And I’m quite positive that they’re going to succeed.
I know this because I traveled over six hours with the Ministry of Health over unpaved and rocky roadways on their visits to various districts. Distribution was carefully arranged: a health worker used a loud megaphone to call out to members of the community to invite them to visit the vaccine and deworming campaign. From there, mothers would bring their young children to receive essential vaccines and deworming medicine.
A nurse practitioner told me that bundling healthcare delivery– such as vaccination and deworming – often encourages more families to come. Most parents know about these diseases, especially the intestinal worms. In Honduras, and many other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, there’s a common belief that if children grind their teeth at night, they have parasites. There is a demand for deworming, and mothers came armed with their child’s immunization card and found a space to account for their child’s annual deworming treatment.
The Honduran ministries are also thinking beyond treatment for NTDs to a more comprehensive approach. These diseases are often spread due to lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation, which is a reality for some of the families in villages like Coyalito. As a result, the ministries are pushing to incorporate water filters in schools, and other sanitation initiatives which will propel these treatment programs toward long-term success.
At the end of the day, I joined the health team in brief survey to determine attendance of the campaign. We walked around each “manzana” – or block – to knock on people’s homes and ask them if children were dewormed and vaccinated. Health workers talked to them about why it’s important to attend these campaigns and have their children treated.
Among advocacy organizations, it seems that we often divvy up health issues, as if family planning, treatment for NTDs and vaccination are all independent projects. But, the reality is that often, at the point-of-care level, everything is bundled together. It’s very effective.
Our partners in Honduras want to expand this successful initiative to help many more families. END7 is asking supporters to help fill a funding gap to make sure this medicine reaches Honduran children in 20,061 schools. With your help we can reach 1.4 million school children and protect them harmful parasitic worms, including roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm.
At the recent “Uniting to Combat NTDs: Translating the London Declaration into Action,” we had a chance to catch up with Ellen Agler, Chief Executive Officer of the END Fund. The END Fund is a private philanthropic fund mobilizing resources for neglected tropical diseases in Africa.
Global Network: What does it take for exposed individuals to fight NTDs?
Ellen Agler: When I was in Mali, I also got a chance to see in addition to the mass drug administration other aspects of the program. There is a huge backlog of trichiasis surgery. Blinding trachoma, if it starts advancing, it is incredibly painful… It feels like sand going over your cornea, and you will go blind if you don’t get this surgery in the advanced stages.
And to see how simple of a surgery it was- that it really only took 10 or 15 minutes. [END Fund] do have this incredible message of about 50 cents per person per year can protect you against these seven diseases that cause disability, cause suffering, cause blindness, and really change the trajectory of your life. And that is a simple message, and I think that we’re all rallying to ensure that we can prevent these diseases, we can treat them in the early stage so that no one has to suffer those diseases.
About two years ago around this time, crowds of protest movements were enveloping the Middle East and North Africa. Protestors were coming together to work towards better representation of people that had the capacity to serve the larger population, rather than the upper elite. In Egypt, particularly about two years ago around this time, the former President of Egypt of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to step down.
Economic burdens and restraints, like those that have affected a large portion of Egypt’s population, not only lead to inequality of employment, resources and infrastructure, but they can also eventually lead to the regression of physical health. When you have such a large population living in under-privileged circumstances, people walk a very thin line of safety when it comes to health services. It may not have stood out as a single issue that raised headlines during the protests, but the lack of policy that suppressed the spread of diseases is also a result of government neglect.
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The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs are a group of parasitic and bacterial diseases that disable and disfigure one in six people worldwide, including half a billion children.