Tag Archives: NTDs

From Houston and Washington to the German Capital; the Fight to End NTDs Returns to Berlin

Global Network and Sabin Vaccine Institute representatives meet German parliamentarian, Mr. Martin Rabanus, a Member of the Committee on Education, Research, and Technology Assessment

Global Network and Sabin representatives meet German MP Martin Rabanus

In September, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network) and the Sabin Vaccine Institute traveled to Berlin to meet with Members of Parliament, German NGO partners and the media to inspire action on the promises to combat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), made during the G7 Summit held in Germany this summer.

The Global Network, which is committed to seeing the end of NTDs — a group of 17 diverse diseases with distinct characteristics that thrive mainly among the poorest and most marginalized populations — works with partners around the world toward achieving this mission. The momentum to combat these debilitating and disfiguring diseases continues to grow and, during the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in June, Germany elevated the profile of NTDs by making “neglected and poverty-related diseases” a key topic for discussion.

The city of Berlin has a unique historical connection to NTDs; it was in Berlin 10 years ago that scientists, the German government and implementing partners first came together and coined the term “NTDs,” an important milestone in defining a collective response against these diseases. Germany is also home to the Institute for Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen where two 19th century German scientists who were instrumental in discovering the causes of schistosomiasis and elephantiasis, Theodor Bilharz and Otto Henry Wucherer, often lectured. Representatives from the university are also members of the newly formed German Network against NTDs.

During this most recent visit to Berlin, the Global Network’s Dr. Neeraj Mistry and Ms. Michelle Brooks, accompanied by Sabin’s President, Dr. Peter Hotez, as well as Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, participated in one-on-one meetings with Members of the German Bundestag, discussing short- and long-term goals surrounding disease elimination. Globally, nearly 1.4 billion people, including more than 500 million children, are at risk from NTDs and require treatment. Medicines are generously donated by pharmaceutical industry partners, however, the value of the donated drugs is not enough to combat NTDs if the funding falls short to ensure their delivery to communities who need them most.

It is fitting that a decade after pivotal meetings in Berlin created the term “NTDs,” the focus is once again on Germany. The G7 Leaders’ Declaration, published at the culmination of the summit, offers hopeful news for communities across Africa, Southeast Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, most marginalized by NTDs by promising to “invest in the prevention and control of NTDs in order to achieve 2020 elimination goals.”

An immediate increase in financing for NTD treatment and prevention programs is essential to build on the progress achieved so far. Opportunities to eliminate elephantiasis, river blindness and trachoma are nearly within our grasp. Countries worldwide, including the G7 nations, can play an important leadership role by helping to close this annual funding gap of US $220 million. If we fail to act now, not only will we reverse many milestones achieved, but one in six people across the world will continue to suffer unnecessarily from NTDs, held hostage in a cycle of perpetual poverty and inequality. Moreover, failure to act now will undermine the efforts of the G7 to demonstrate their accountability and effectiveness as a group.

We certainly applaud the German government for her bold steps taken on behalf of NTDs this year, and we will be watching this week on October 8th and 9th as the G7 ministers for health and research meet once again in Berlin to discuss next steps.

Adiós! Goodbye, oncho! Mexico joins two other countries in ending onchocerciasis in LAC

Mission to verify the elimination of onchocerciasis in Ecuador. PAHO/WHO, 2014

Mission to verify the elimination of onchocerciasis in Ecuador. PAHO/WHO, 2014

I can’t wait to spread the news. The Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) region is one step closer to seeing the end of onchocerciasis (also referred to as river blindness): Mexico has become the third country in the world to officially wipe out this disease!

The drive for progress is much of what motivated me during my time as the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO Regional Office for the Americas. I am excited to continue celebrating these milestones as Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Special Envoy, and a life-long advocate for public health.

Earlier this year, I wrote about 7 achievable victories in the fight against NTDs that I hope to see accomplished in 2015. Many of these wishes are coming true.

This week, I am filled with the joyful sense of pride in the accomplishment of Mexico and its partners as I check off Mexico’s certification of onchocerciasis elimination from my wish list. Mexico’s success builds off of Colombia and Ecuador’s certification in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and gives me even more confidence that we will soon see news of a LAC region completely free of onchocerciasis.

Onchocerciasis is a devastatingly debilitating parasitic disease that causes itchiness, rashes, and eye problems, eventually leading to permanent blindness. The parasite is transmitted to humans by the bite of a black fly, which breeds in fast moving rivers, increasing the risk of blindness in nearby communities. What’s more, the disease causes a terrible ripple effect by pulling kids out of school to care for their blind elders, reducing economic productivity, and causing families to move out of fertile river valleys, decreasing agricultural outputs in already impoverished areas.

This momentous occasion moves the LAC region one step closer to eliminating the disease entirely—Guatemala has already submitted a request to WHO to verify elimination, and I hope to soon see more results from the enormous, highly coordinated, south-south cooperative effort between Brazil and Venezuela to stop transmission in the Yanomami communities along their borders.

We should all celebrate this official announcement, and we must particularly congratulate Mexico and the many partners that have been working to control this problem for decades and moved toward accomplishing elimination with new tools and new partners for the last fifteen years. 

Eliminating this disease requires unwavering determination. The first step in the elimination process is at least two years of mass drug administration, in which entire communities who are at risk of onchocerciasis are administered Mectizan (ivermectin) every six months. Merck has made an unprecedented pledge to donate Mectizan to everyone in need, for as long as needed. President Jimmy Carter and the Carter´s Center program (OEPA – Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas) have been instrumental, joining PAHO/WHO as well as the communities and health workers in a successful dream team. You can see President Carter’s video message here, congratulating partners for their hard-earned accomplishments.

Once large-scale programs are complete, treatments are delivered to individuals on an as-needed basis. Communities are monitored for an additional twelve years to make sure that transmission of this disease has been interrupted. Finally, after treatment and monitoring, countries stop the treatment intervention and watch for three years to ensure that there is no resurgence in transmission, and then apply for WHO certification that elimination has been achieved.

I was thrilled to be able to celebrate the long-term dedication and resulting accomplishment of all partners contributing to this milestone at an event at PAHO Headquarters last week. Health Ministers from the countries that have eliminated or will soon eliminate river blindness, technical advisors, and global policy leaders were specially recognized for the recent successes and spur motivation to run the race through the last mile all around the world. I was particularly moved when Dr. Etienne, Director of PAHO/WHO, invited me to share the frontline when she received the award. The outstanding accomplishment of the countries in the Americas comes at an excellent time, now that NTDs are officially identified in the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals. The LAC region has hit the ground running.

Dr. Mirta Roses Periago is the Director Emeritus of PAHO/WHO and a Special Envoy for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

Using visual media to raise awareness of NTDs

NTD-Competitions-BlogImage-1Today we’ve posted an essay by Keng Hou Mak, a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program at Baylor College of Medicine and one of five winners of a student competition on raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) — a group of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections that afflict mainly those living in extreme poverty.

The writing contest and related outreach competition are associated with a Sept. 29-30 Baker Institute conference on NTDs in the U.S. and Mexico. One winning essay will be featured here each week leading up the conference.

The public is invited to attend the Baker Institute NTD conference, but an RSVP is required. Please click here for more information and to register for the event.

I was telling a friend about the many Africans affected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and how these diseases perpetuate poverty. She was convinced of their global importance. But apparently, my speech did not stir her until I told her the scabies she just recovered from was one of the NTDs. This is a clear example showing that the collective term “NTDs” might be confusing. The term might seem even more removed from Americans who do not live in the poorest neighborhoods and have never contracted any of the NTDs; such people are mostly unaware of the pain and suffering caused by NTDs, despite their far-reaching socioeconomic significance for the affected population and America as a whole.

One way to relate and link individual NTDs to the public is through visual means. A quick Google search for “neglected tropical diseases” returns few impressive images — mostly of African children in a poor village setting. Therefore, for current and future campaigns, we need to generate diverse visual materials that the public can relate to.

Another property of NTDs, unlike many household-name diseases, is that many of them are readily preventable at a negligible cost, with tremendous gains in the quality of life and productivity of the affected. A fundraising campaign that makes use of this fact will get the message through to the public. I am proposing the following campaign that combines these two concepts through the use of social media:

Campaign: Five NTs (Neglected Truths) About NTDs

The campaign starts with a 2D graphic design contest with themes on important messages about NTDs, and then generates an online presence with a slideshow article on five neglected facts about NTDs, using materials from the design contest. The online article will be set up to allow small, fixed donations through a one-touch method.

  1. 2D Graphic Design Contest

Why 2D visual: It is versatile, powerful and instant. 2D visuals can be adapted to different media and for various uses, can be more powerful than texts, and can stir up an instant response from viewers, which cannot be achieved by videos.

Goals: Increase awareness among contestants and encourage them to think more deeply about NTDs through the creation process. Generate visual materials for the rest of the campaign and for future use.

Who participates: Open to the public. It will in particular be advertised to students through NTD groups in schools.

Format: 2D visuals in all forms, including infographics, memes, photos, graphics, and comics.

Topics: Five core messages determined by the campaign organizers — for example, the parasite-poverty loop, NTDs are on American soil, the broad (and often invisible) impacts of NTDs, and the seven most common NTDs.

How to determine the winner: Contest entries are displayed under each of the “neglected facts” in the online slideshow article. The entry that gathers the most “likes” from the public within a period of time (e.g., four weeks) is the winner.

Possible alternate uses of the materials: A Wikipedia page or an image collection for NTD groups at schools and universities

  1. Online Slideshow Article on “Five NTs (Neglected Truths) About NTDs”

Why five: This format of article — e.g., “Top 10 Restaurants in Houston” or “Five Things You Didn’t Know About Cats” —is the most likely to be shared on social media, which will increase the chance of getting the messages to more people.

Goals: Generate an online presence by sharing the article for fundraising and spreading the message. Create a platform to determine the winner of the contest.

Contents of the article: The article will be organized into five slides on the core messages used for the contest. The text of the article will include relevant information about each message, provided by the organizing committee from the relevant literature and sources. The images for the slideshow will come from the contestants in the 2D design contest. A “Donate” link, described below, will also be included. NTD-focused groups in schools and contestants are expected to be the first to share the article on social media.

  1. One-Touch Donation

Just 50 cents can protect a person from the seven most common NTDs for a year. The campaign can use this fact to get more people involved and, importantly, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a difference — and how important, given the socioeconomic significance of NTDs. To do this, I propose a fundraising component that requests a fixed amount small enough that people would seldom hesitate to donate (e.g., $5). To make the process even easier, the donation can be collected in the form of the charge from downloading an app. People who wish to donate can download an app, and since their accounts for the Apple app store or Google Play are linked to their credit card information, the donation can be done in one step. The app could simply be a chart showing daily updates on the amount raised by the campaign; it can also show how many people can be saved from NTDs since the start of the campaign. This gives the donor a sense of being part of a bigger community that fights against NTDs.

This part of the campaign complements the previous part on generating an online presence, since we need to reach as many people as possible for the small amount each person donates.

Keng Hou Mak, originally from Hong Kong, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. His interest in neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) started with his thesis project on the evolutionary conservation of a stress signaling mechanism, which he studied in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, a small, non-parasitic nematode. Mak learned that this worm, which has been studied extensively, could be used to provide the knowledge and tools needed to understand the parasitic nematodes that cause NTDs. He was struck by the impact of basic science on global socioeconomic issues, such as those caused by NTDs, and realized that education and community outreach was also critical to making a difference.

This essay originally appeared on the Baker Institute Blog.

A Call to Compassion and Unity

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez speaks at A Call to Compassion

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez speaks at A Call to Compassion

Over the past nine years, USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Program has delivered more than 1.3 billion treatments to nearly 600 million people across 32 countries. USAID’s work with NTDs is a shining example of the power of public-private partnerships to leverage existing resources that stretch the impact of U.S. foreign aid dollars. In the FY 2015 budget, Congress funded USAID’s NTD Program at $100 million, demonstrating continued U.S. leadership in global health.

Ahead of Pope Francis’ historic address to the U.S. Congress this Thursday, the Global Network was pleased to host an event celebrating the bipartisan commitment of the U.S. government in the fight against NTDs. The reception, “A Call to Compassion: Spotlight on NTDs,” sought to build further support for the NTD cause among Members of Congress, the Administration, the broader policy community, private sector partners and lay leaders in the Catholic Church.

Rep. Chris Smith speaks at A Call to Compassion

Rep. Chris Smith speaks at A Call to Compassion

We were thrilled to welcome Rep.Chris Smith (R-NJ) to speak, along with Reverend Thomas Streit, C.S.C., the Founder of the University of Notre Dame’s Haiti Program, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID and Dr. Leonard Friedland, Vice President and Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health for Vaccines in North America at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Reverend Pat Conroy, S.J., Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, concluded the program with a benediction.

We also appreciated the support of our co-sponsors: RTI International, FHI 360, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, GSK, University of Notre Dame’s Eck Institute of Global Health and Advocates for Development Assistance, as well as the coordination received from the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs — co-chaired by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) — and the Congressional Global Health Caucus — co-chaired by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).

Saint DamienSaint Damien of Molokai was a great source of inspiration for the event. St. Damien dedicated the last sixteen years of his life to caring for those with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. He eventually succumbed to the disease in 1889 and was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. Leprosy is one of 17 NTDs targeted for control or elimination by the World Health Organization.

More than 1.4 billion of the world’s poorest people suffer from NTDs, including 500 million children. These diseases perpetuate poverty by causing blindness, malnutrition, anemia and disfigurement — preventing children from attending school and parents from going to work. Treatment for these diseases can cost as little as 50 cents per person, per year.

Guests at the reception learn about NTDs

Guests at the reception learn about NTDs

Inspired by Pope Francis’ call for Catholic communities to “become islands of mercy in a vast sea of indifference,” a historic conference will be held at the Vatican in May 2016. Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, the entity that coordinates and promotes the health care work undertaken by the Catholic Church, the conference will focus on “diseases of solidarity” – both rare and neglected tropical diseases. The Global Network is honored to be serving as the official planning partner for the NTD stream of the conference.

NTDs are a pervasive issue, threatening the health of one-fifth of the world’s population. It is a problem that cannot be tackled by one sector working alone. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Saint Damien teaches us to choose the good fight, not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity.” To see the end of these diseases requires the commitment of politicians, organizations, students, administrators, faith leaders, health care workers — all of us. We are grateful to welcome new partners to the NTD elimination effort and to find new sources of inspiration to sustain this fight.