You know you are a mainstream global health issue when you get your own report from the World Health Organization – with a forward from Margaret Chan herself! Dare I say that you might also be considered “fashionable”.
Earlier today, the WHO released its first report on the Neglected Tropical Diseases. The eloquent Director General writes the following in her introduction about the NTDs:
Neglected tropical diseases have traditionally ranked low on national and international health agendas. They cause massive but hidden and silent suffering, and frequently kill, but not in numbers comparable to the deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Tied as they are to impoverished tropical settings, they do not spread to distant countries and only rarely affect travellers as, for example, during outbreaks of dengue. Because they are a threat only in impoverished settings they have low visibility in the rest of the world. Though greatly feared in affected populations, they are little known and poorly understood elsewhere. While the scale of the need for prevention and treatment is huge, the poverty of those affected limits their access to interventions and the services needed to deliver them. Diseases linked to poverty likewise offer little incentive to industry to invest in developing new or better products for a market that cannot pay.
I think that is a good summary of the main challenges to the control of the NTDs. To this I would also add that they are major contributors to the global burden of disease mainly via morbidity, which has profound health consequences but also can inhibit the education and productivity of affected individuals.
The fact that this report exists speaks to the great progress that has been made in this area over the past decade. My first official global health job was with the International Trachoma Initiative years ago where I was charged at looking at developing the strategy for an integrated strategy for trachoma with other neglected tropical diseases. Now integrated approaches are being tested around the world, millions of dollars in new funding have been provided by donors, and to this day NTD control remains one of the best examples of successful public-private partnerships.
While the area has received increased attention from many of the past few years, many important challenges remain. Over a billion people are likely infected by these scourges and despite the fact that safe, effective, and low cost treatments and intervention exist to both prevent and treat these conditions, these intervention still are not reaching everyone who needs them.
To celebrate this report, here are some links to some NTD related sites that you might enjoy:
1. The End the Neglect Blog – A whole blog devoted entirely to the NTDs, including the Worm of the Week Feature!
2. Alanna Shaikh’s post on “Why the NTDs annoy me” – very entertaining.
3. The Center for Global Development’s Case Study on Onchocerciasis from the Millions Saved Project.
4. I highly recommend this article (which I think is free) by Adrian Hopkins from the Mectizan Donation Program.
5. This overview of Official Development Assistance for the NTDs by Bernard Liese and Liane Schubert.
Photo Credit: WHOShare on Facebook