January 30th is the third annual World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day, a global observance intended to increase awareness of these illnesses. It is also a day to garner the political support and investment necessary to fight against them.
Neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, are considered to be “neglected” because they receive scant attention on the global health agenda and relatively little funding. Much of that has to do with the fact that these are maladies of impoverished communities.
NTDs are a group of parasitic, bacterial, and viral diseases. NTDs are chronic disabling illnesses that thrive in areas with inadequate sanitation and lack of clean drinking water. Some of the most common include: lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, river blindness, schistosomiasis, and intestinal worms.
Today these maladies affect about a billion people mostly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but historical records indicate that NTDs have blinded, disabled, disfigured and killed their victims for centuries. And generation after generation, their impact on individuals and communities is devastating. They impair intellectual development in children and reduce school enrollment. They limit the ability of infected individuals to work and thrive, and because most of those affected by NTDs have little or no access to medical care, they become trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease.
The good news is that most NTDs are preventable or treatable, often with low-cost medications. In 2006, the United States Government joined a global effort to control these diseases. At the time, 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. The program also aims to help prevent the spread of NTDs by identifying at-risk communities, distributing medicines donated by the pharmaceutical industry through mass campaigns, and measuring results.
Since 2006, USAID has provided more than $1 billion to eliminate NTDs. Every $1 invested by the U.S. Government leverages $26 in donated medicines for mass treatment campaigns totaling $27.6 billion in value. Now nearly 500 million people no longer require treatment for three of the most burdensome NTDs.
Through USAID, the U.S. Government is collaborating with its many partners to mitigate, and one day eliminate these debilitating diseases and improve the lives of over a billion people.