Keeping Targets in Sight with New Diagnostics for NTDs

 

By Kerry Gallo, Communications Officer, PATH

In 2012, the private and public sectors pledged substantial resources to fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) through the signing of the London Declaration. Donations of drugs from the pharmaceutical industry, funding from donors, and supportive policy at the international and national levels are helping to expand the toolkit for combating NTDs.

But important tools are still missing—diagnostic tests to guide efforts to control and eliminate NTDs.

The lack of effective diagnostics has been identified as a critical gap in the ability to achieve the goals set forward by the London Declaration. The NTD community has taken notice of this gap, as evidenced by new support to PATH for the prioritization and development of novel NTD diagnostic tests, which once commercialized, will be critical in the global fight against NTDs.

In many parts of the world, diagnostics are often taken for granted. But in low-resource settings, these tests are a rarity. People living in remote communities may be far from hospitals and clinics where tests are available, trained health workers who know how to properly administer complex diagnostics are often in short supply and there are few facilities where samples can be processed.

These are some of the challenges that the next generation of diagnostics for NTDs will need to overcome.

Diagnostics for NTDs are especially important because they provide data for informed decision-making throughout the life cycle of a control or elimination program. At the start of an NTD control or elimination program, diagnostics are critical to mapping disease and identifying areas in need of treatment. Interventions like mass drug administration (MDA) are the arrows in the NTD program manager’s quiver and diagnostics bring the target into focus so programs know where to aim. Even if current diagnostics are sufficient for this purpose, the need for new tests comes as NTD programs make progress on the path toward disease control and elimination.

Later on during the program life cycle, as MDA programs and prevention efforts are scaled up, levels of infection will decrease. However, current diagnostics for NTDs are not sensitive enough to detect very low levels of infection. Data from insufficiently sensitive tests might result in decisions to reduce or stop MDA prematurely, which can lead to infection levels bouncing back. New, more sensitive diagnostics will be critical to guide control programs for diseases such as soil-transmitted helminthiasis as MDA is scaled up globally.

New diagnostics will also be critical to conducting surveillance for elimination programs for diseases like onchocerciasis, blinding trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, Chagas disease, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leprosy and visceral leishmaniasis. Identifying individual cases of infection will become more challenging as levels decrease, requiring many samples from target populations to be taken. For this reason, simple, effective and field-ready diagnostics that can be used by minimally-trained staff with limited resources will be essential.

In the coming months, PATH and our partners will be working to identify where the introduction and scale-up of new diagnostics will have the greatest impact, evaluate potential technologies and focus on the most promising new tests. Continued commitment from donors and partners will be essential to bring these tests to market so they will be available for NTD program managers worldwide. Some progress has already been made—we worked to develop a new test for onchocerciasis, which will be available in late 2014.

With new diagnostics to hone our vision and guide our decisions, we will move closer to a future free of NTDs.

For more information, contact dxinfo@path.org.

Introducing Lydia Silber, September’s END7 Student of the Month

 

Lydia_END7Each month, END7 honors one student who has made a significant contribution to our growing movement of student advocates dedicated to seeing the end of NTDs. We are very proud to introduce our September Student of the Month, Lydia Silber, a senior at Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, Illinois. Lydia, who learned about END7 after her sister attended a presentation at Boston University, shares:

“In April, my sister showed me a disturbing YouTube video that said that roughly one out of every six people are infected with a neglected tropical disease (NTDs), and that all it took was $0.50 to treat one person for a whole year. Within weeks, I began fundraising for NTD treatment, and all throughout the summer, I was outside of restaurants and coffee shops raising money for END7. I sold bracelets and held pizza sales for a few weeks too. Though raising money was a huge part of this, to me raising awareness was even more important. I just wanted to supply as many people as I could find with access to information about NTD’s and insight into how treatable they are. I wear my bracelet every day, and each time I look at it, I am reminded that a lot of work still needs to be done for END7. I hope that all of the people that wear their bracelets think the same, and continue to spread the word. If my hopes are a reality, then I am confident that we will see the end of all seven of those NTDs by 2020.”

In all, Lydia raised an incredible $800 for END7 to support NTD treatment programs around the world. Her involvement is a great example of the power of people spreading the word about NTDs and END7 to their friends, family and community, and we are so grateful for her hard work!

We are are excited to see our community of student supporters like Lydia continue to grow. If you are ready to get your school involved in END7’s work, contact student coordinator Emily on Facebook or at Emily.Conron@sabin.org to learn how you can get started!

New Report: The Neglected Tropical Disease Initiative in Latin America on the Effectiveness of Integrated NTD Programs

 

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While major gains have been made in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), the Latin American and Caribbean region’s most poor and marginalized populations still suffer from the pain, disability and social exclusion associated with NTDs — diseases which have been successfully controlled in higher income countries.

However, the Latin America and the Caribbean Neglected Tropical Disease Initiative (LAC NTD Initiative), a partnership between the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Pan American health Organization (PAHO) and Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, is proving that the control and elimination of NTDs within the region is possible and within reach.

In a recently-published report, titled It Can be Done: An Integrated Approach for Controlling and Eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases, the IDB draws upon four NTD demonstration projects to provide lessons learned in integrated NTD control projects. The projects, taking place in Brazil, Guyana, Haiti and Mexico, took an integrated approach to addressing NTDs by combining interventions from the water and sanitation and education sectors, and taking advantage of synergies within governments, NGOs and private sectors within the region. This integrated approach stands in contrast to the more traditional approach to addressing NTDs — one which historically involved concentrating on one disease at a time and offering medications and treatments to entire at-risk populations to stop the spread of disease.

The work undertaken by the LAC NTD Initiative is critical; the Latin America and Caribbean region has been plagued by underfunding for NTD control even though more than 100 million individuals in the region are infected by at one or more of these diseases. Yet NTDs can be treated at a very low cost in comparison to other public health interventions. For example, it is estimated that lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis and trachoma could be eliminated, and soil-transmitted helminth and schistosomiasis controlled in the Latin America and Caribbean region by 2020 for as little as US$0.51 per person in most countries.

As the world quickly approaches the deadline of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals go into effect, we must focus on the world’s poorest and most marginalized communities who suffer from NTDs in an effort to ensure that no one is left behind.

It Can be Done: An Integrated Approach for Controlling and Eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases seeks to inform policymakers and program managers’ efforts to design, manage, implement and evaluate integrated NTD programs. The report, which presents the first comparative analysis that uses a single methodology to investigate the feasibility of implementing integrated programs, will certainly move the world one step closer to ending the suffering caused by NTDs.

To read the full report, click here.

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#StopTheWorms: STH Coalition Forming New Partnerships to Reduce Intestinal Worm Infections in Children

 

This week, the Soil Transmitted Helminth (STH) Coalition and various NGOs are meeting in Paris for a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) NGO Network meeting to discuss effective ways of advancing the control and elimination of STH (also known as intestinal worms) and other NTDs.

The STH Coalition is a diverse group of committed organizations that are actively engaging new partners from multiple sectors to advance the goal of reducing intestinal worm infections in children. The STH Coalition is made up of partners that include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other organizations. The Global Network is also happy to be a part of this group of committed organizations.

Intestinal worms are some of the most common NTDs that affect the health and livelihoods of the poorest and most marginalized communities in the world. Intestinal worms affect over one billion people world-wide and destabilize global development initiatives in multiple sectors including nutrition, education and maternal health.

To accelerate the work of the STH Coalition in forging new partnerships in the fight against intestinal worms and other NTDs, Children Without Worms (CWW) has been promoting the STH Coalition’s mission via @CWWDirector on Twitter and through their blog leading up to the NTD NDGO Network meeting in Paris.

We encourage you to share, tweet, and re-tweet content released by the STH Coalition in order to boost awareness about intestinal worms. Follow this link to learn more about the STH Coalition and their important work, and check out the infographic below – highlighting the importance of controlling intestinal worms.

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