This post has been reprinted with permission from USAID’s IMPACTblog.
By: Elizabeth Thompson, President’s Malaria Initiative USAID/ Bureau for Global Health
A young woman is measured for height to determine her proper treatment dosage for lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminthes during a mass drug administration in Sierra Leone. Photo credit: Michel Pacque/USAID
There is a group of diseases you don’t hear much about but that has a terrible impact on more than 1 billion people around the world – that’s one sixth of the world’s population. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified 13 of these as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and they include such dreaded illnesses as elephantiasis, leprosy, blinding trachoma, and intestinal worms. Together, NTDs have a disproportionately large impact on poor and rural populations, causing severe illness, disfigurement, and disability. They also perpetuate poverty by reducing people’s ability to work and children’s intellectual and physical development.
Until recently, many countries were treating NTDs through separate, uncoordinated programs. However, pilot studies suggest that it is possible to integrate programs to control and treat seven of these diseases together by providing safe and effective drug treatments once or twice a year to all people in an affected community. This approach, which has been endorsed by WHO and is called mass drug administration (MDA), targets large, at-risk populations, rather than individuals, since NTDs tend to occur together in the same geographic area. Pilot studies of MDAs of the seven targeted NTDs resulted in significant reductions of illness and transmission of these diseases and indicated that, though there were major challenges, integrating control programs was possible and could result in cost savings and efficiencies. However, it was not clear if integrated programs could be scaled up to the national level.