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Medics canvass better deal to contain neglected tropical diseases

By Chukwuma Muanya
30 January 2023   |   3:38 am
As World Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Day holds today, with the theme, ‘Act now. Act together. Invest in Neglected Tropical Diseases’, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for improved global response to treatment and control of NTDs.

As World Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Day holds today, with the theme, ‘Act now. Act together. Invest in Neglected Tropical Diseases’, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for improved global response to treatment and control of NTDs. The group also wants an increased global investment in integrating the ailments in primary healthcare services, research and development.

MSF, in a statement, said with recent funding cuts, general forsaking of NTDs and disrupted health systems in the wake of COVID-19, there is concern that progress towards ending NTDs could be undermined.

Neglected Diseases Policy Adviser, MSF Access Campaign, Julien Potet, said: “Over the past three decades, while treating neglected tropical diseases around the world, MSF has again and again witnessed the devastating impact they can have on peoples’ lives. On this World Day dedicated to neglected diseases, we reiterate our call for an improved global response to the problem, as it’s past time to overcome the neglect and end these diseases. The global community must urgently prioritise funding and investment in neglected diseases, with focus on programmatic activities and implementation for better access to testing, safe, effective treatment and care for patients.”

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), NTDs are widespread, affecting over one billion people and killing hundreds of thousands of people yearly. However, as NTDs mostly impact the world’s poorest people, the diseases are often overlooked by policymakers and so very few resources are made available to address them.

On May 31, 2021, World Health Assembly (WHA) recognised January 30 as NTD Day through Decision WHA74 (18). The declaration formalised January 30 as a day to create better awareness on devastating impact of NTDs on poorest populations around the world. The day is also an opportunity to call on everyone to support the growing momentum for control, elimination and eradication of the diseases.

Global NTD partners had marked the celebration in January 2021 by organising various virtual events and lighting up landmark monuments and buildings.

Following last year’s WHA decision, WHO joined the NTD community in adding to its voice to the global call. January 30 commemorates several events, such as the launch of the first NTD road map in 2012; the London Declaration on NTDs; and the launch, in January 2021, of the current road map.

The global report on neglected tropical diseases 2023 provides a consolidated, up-to-date assessment of progress towards control, elimination and eradication of 20 diseases and disease groups (NTDs) globally, regionally and nationally. Progress is reported in the context of global commitments, strategies and targets, which were determined through an extensive consultation that culminated in the endorsement of the document Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: a road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021−2030 by the Seventy-third World Health Assembly in November 2020.

NTDs are a diverse group of 20 conditions that are mainly prevalent in tropical areas, where they mostly affect impoverished communities and disproportionately affect women and children. These diseases cause devastating health, social and economic consequences to more than one billion people.

The epidemiology of NTDs is complex and often related to environmental conditions. Many of them are vector-borne, have animal reservoirs and are associated with complex life cycles. All these factors make their public health control challenging.

NTDs include: Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, dengue and chikungunya, dracunculiasis (Guinea-worm disease), echinococcosis, foodborne trematodiases, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, leprosy (Hansen’s disease), lymphatic filariasis, mycetoma, chromoblastomycosis and other deep mycoses, onchocerciasis (river blindness), rabies, scabies and other ectoparasitoses, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, snakebite envenoming, taeniasis/cysticercosis, trachoma, and yaws and other endemic treponematoses.

Meanwhile, only 13 human cases of Guinea worm disease were reported worldwide last year, according to the Carter Center in the United States.
After decades of progress, Adam Weiss, director of The Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program, cautioned the end phase of the global effort to eradicate the parasitic disease would be “the most difficult”.

The Atlanta-based centre – founded by former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Eleanor Rosalynn Carter – said on Tuesday that the 13 infections occurred in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Six human cases were reported in Chad, five in South Sudan, one in Ethiopia and one in the Central African Republic, which remains under investigation.

That’s a significant drop from 1986 when former President Carter, 98, began leading the global eradication effort and when the disease infected 3.5 million people.

The figures, which are provisional, are to be confirmed in the coming months.

“We are truly in the midst of that last mile and experiencing firsthand that it is going to be a very long and arduous last mile,” Weiss told The Associated Press. “Not so much as it taking more than the next seven years – five to seven years – but just knowing that it’s going to be a slow roll to zero.”

Guinea worm affects some of the world’s more vulnerable people and can be prevented by training people to filter and drink clean water. People who drink unclean water can ingest parasites that can grow as long as one metre (3 feet). The worm incubates in people for up to a year before painfully emerging, often through the feet or other sensitive parts of the body.

Weiss said the populations where Guinea worm still exists are prone to local insecurity, including conflict, which can prevent staff and volunteers from going house to house to implement interventions or offer support.

“If we take our foot off of the gas in terms of trying to accelerate getting to zero and providing support to those communities, there’s no question that you’re going to see a surge in Guinea worm,” Weiss said. “We’re continuing to make progress, even if it is not as fast as we all want it to be, but that progress continues.”

Guinea worm is poised to be the second human disease to be eradicated after smallpox, according to The Carter Center.