January 30th marks the first-annual observance of World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day. The hope is that raising awareness of these crippling diseases will increase support as well as investment in the fight against them, particularly in the areas most directly affected.
Neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, are maladies of the poorest of the poor. They are chronic disabling illnesses that thrive in areas with inadequate sanitation and lack of clean drinking water.
NTDs have blinded, disabled, disfigured and killed their victims for centuries. Today, more than 1 billion people suffer with these illnesses. Furthermore, NTDs undermine the future of both the affected individuals and their communities. They lower children’s chances of thriving and of staying in school, as well as the ability of adults to work and be fully active in their communities, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Nonetheless, most NTDs are frequently preventable or treatable, often with low-cost medications. So, back in 2006, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, launched the Neglected Tropical Diseases Program, a public-private partnership to treat those who suffer from NTDs, and to help prevent the spread of these diseases by identifying at-risk communities, distributing medicines through mass campaigns, and measuring results.
The program targets the most prevalent neglected tropical diseases that have proven, cost-effective health interventions. These include Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as elephantiasis; blinding Trachoma; Onchocerciasis, or River Blindness; Schistosomiasis, which is sometimes called snail fever; and illnesses caused by the Soil Transmitted Helminths hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm.
Since the program began in 2006, USAID has helped leverage 22 billion dollars in donated drugs from five pharmaceutical companies. That has allowed 2.6 billion treatments of medicine to go to 1.3 billion people, or 1 out of every 6 people around the globe. Thus far, 10 USAID-supported countries have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease as a public health problem.
The United States believes that the first-annual World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day kicks off an important year in the fight against neglected diseases of poverty. Reducing the burden of disease and disability caused by NTDs is essential to improving the lives of the world’s poorest people.