Neglected tropical diseases
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) were coined ‘neglected’ because they affect some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet: those living in remote rural areas, urban slums and conflict zones. They are diseases that have been largely wiped out in richer/rich countries, but are a critical reason why people in the developing world cannot escape poverty, particularly in rural communities across Africa. Some NTDs kill, and others cause severe and sometimes lifelong disability.
There are 17 of these parasitic or bacterial infections in total, which affect a sixth of the world’s population. A further two billion people are at risk.
- NTD report launches
2012 was a landmark year for global efforts for the elimination of neglected tropical diseases. The beginning of that year saw the launch of the London Declaration, a joint undertaking of collaboration by the NTD community. In 2013, a new report charts the progress made in that year – and outlines new developments that will drive our fight against NTDs.
The London Declaration was a statement by governments, non-government organisations (NGOs), and pharmaceutical companies, recognising the unnecessary devastation these diseases cause, the simplicity of treatment and control for many of the diseases and the cost effectiveness and wise investment that they represent. Bill Gates, Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Sightsavers’ Chief Executive Caroline Harper all spoke at its unveiling.
The Declaration was only the beginning of a year of positive developments in the fight against NTDs. A new report launched this January, ‘From Progress to Promises’ charts those achievements.
It also details the launch of a new scorecard which will clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved in the fight against NTDs. The scorecard will help all those involved track progress on the elimination of the different diseases by providing a useful source of data too.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also launched a new report Sustaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases in January which discusses the path to achieving the goals, identifies challenges, and proposes plans to address each disease.
Together, these reports offer a united way forward for the NTD community.
We at Sightsavers have enjoyed our own NTD landmarks in 2012:
- Being awarded £10.6m by the UK government to lead the global mapping of the blinding disease trachoma over the next few years- which has now started
- The publication of research which shows that river blindness can be eliminated by sustained Mectizan treatments over a sustained period. The results show river blindness may have been eliminated in Kaduna State in Nigeria, where Sightsavers has worked with the Ministry of Health to distribute treatments for over 20 years
- Washington meeting on NTDs in November
More information and comment on the reports from Caroline Harper, who is also Chair of the UK Coalition against NTDs, can be found here.
- Sightsavers and the NTDs
Sightsavers has been working to combat two of the NTDs for many years: river blindness (onchocerciasis) and trachoma. We have recently pioneered a ground breaking initiative in Zamfara State in Nigeria, to tackle five more NTDs at the same time. Using the vehicle already in place to distribute the drugs to prevent trachoma and river blindness, working with the State drugs were also given out for lymphatic filariasis, the three soil transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis. With systems already in place the cost of preventing the extra diseases is minimal.
Read more about this exciting project, and find out about the extra diseases Sightsavers is tackling below.
Also known as bilharzia or ‘snail fever’ because freshwater snails carry the parasitic worm that causes it, schisto can cause serious damage to internal organs. In children it can impair growth and cognitive development.
Soil transmitted helminths (STH)
“Helminth” is a technical word for a worm. There are three soil-transmitted helminths (STHs), often referred to simply as common intestinal worms. STHs can cause death through anemia, vitamin A deficiency and loss of appetite. When the amount of worms in a child’s body becomes dangerously high, and they build up in the intestines, surgery is the only option. The worms will eventually block the intestine entirely, which can be fatal.
Lymphatic filariasis (LF)
Commonly known as elephantiasis due to the severe disfigurement infection can lead to, LF is caused by thread-like worms. The larvae are transmitted to humans through the bite of the mosquito. Although infection often begins in childhood, skin and tissue swelling and thickening doesn’t happen until later in life. Such body deformities usually lead to isolation and poverty.
- Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases event in Washington, 2012
Sightsavers’ standing as one of the key players in the fight against neglected tropical diseases was boosted by our involvement in a conference in Washington, entitled Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases.
The event, held this November, was chaired by The World Bank and the Gates Foundation. The purpose of this conference was to discuss funding and ways of collaborative working previously agreed upon in the London Declaration.
Sightsavers is one of many international organisations currently fighting river blindness, trachoma and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – by supporting the distribution of treatments to communities who need them. In just six years more than half a billion NTD treatments have reached more than 250 million people in 20 countries.
At the event’s opening reception Sightsavers’ President, HRH Princess Alexandra, and Dr Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Group President, met with Sightsavers’ Chair, Lord Crisp, Dr Julie Jacobson of the Gates Foundation and Professor Don Bundy of the World Bank. The Princess then went on to meet and talk to more than 100 people from a range of organisations working towards the control and elimination of NTDs.
Sightsavers’ CEO Caroline Harper chaired one of the conference events celebrating progress in the fight against NTDs, which currently affect a sixth of the world’s population. They include trachoma and onchocerciasis (river blindness); two diseases we have been tackling for most of our sixty-year history. Dominic Haslam (Director of Policy) and Simon Bush (Director of Advocacy) were also involved in the event, giving presentations on a variety of related topics including health and policy development.
The event proved to be an overwhelming success for Sightsavers and allowed us to showcase our expertise and leadership in the NTD field. We hope that the conference will take us one step further in our mission, which we share with all of our partners, to eliminate these debilitating diseases for once and for all.