World Health Organization and partners unveil new coordinated approach to treat millions suffering from neglected tropical diseases
26 October 2006 | WASHINGTON - Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) and a group of more than 25 partner organizations unveiled a new strategy to fight some of the most neglected tropical diseases that destroy the lives and health of poor people.
The approach contained in a newly published manual, Preventive Chemotherapy in Human Helminthiasis, focuses on how and when a set of low-cost or free drugs should be used in developing countries to control a set of diseases caused by worm infections. Preventive chemotherapy in this context means using drugs that are effective against a broad range of worm infections to simultaneously treat the four most common diseases caused by worms: river blindness (onchocerciasis), elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminthiasis. Significant opportunities also exist to integrate these efforts with the prevention and control of diseases such as trachoma.
"Preventive chemotherapy does not necessarily stop infection taking place but it can help to reduce transmission. The benefit of preventive chemotherapy is that it immediately improves health and prevents irreversible disease in adults," says Dr Lorenzo Savioli, Director of the WHO Department for the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases in Geneva. “In the same way as we protect people against a number of vaccine-preventable diseases throughout their lives, the regular and coordinated use of a few drugs can protect people against worm-induced disease, improving children's performance at school and the economic productivity of adults."
The new approach provides a critical first step in combining treatment regimens for diseases which, although different in themselves, require common resources and delivery strategies for control or elimination.
The second key component of the strategy brings together for the first time dozens of agencies, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies and others into a coordinated assault on neglected diseases. These organizations are integrating their expertise and resources to deliver the manual’s protocols for wide-scale drug use. A wealth of experience and success already exists in the public health community in dealing with these diseases.
More than one billion people are afflicted by these diseases. Their impact can be measured in the impaired growth and development of children, complications during pregnancies, underweight babies, significant and sometimes disabling disfigurements, blindness, social stigma, and reduced economic productivity and household incomes. These effects can now be dramatically reduced by scaling up interventions using highly effective drugs of proven quality and excellent safety record -- the majority donated free by companies or costing less than US$ 0.40 per person per year, including the cost of the drugs and their delivery.
"We need to urgently work together to improve access to rapid-impact interventions and quality care," says Dr David Heymann, WHO Acting Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases. "The need to do so is incontestable from all perspectives: moral, human rights, economic and global public good. The task is feasible and must be done."
Work must now begin in earnest to implement the practical guidelines in the manual and sustain the progress that preventive chemotherapy offers. The governments of the Member States of the United Nations have committed themselves to attaining the Millennium Development Goals. The application of preventive treatment for worm infections will make a significant contribution to overcoming the challenges set out for us in the Millennium Development Goals.
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