Neglected tropical diseases

One year on and accelerating work to overcome neglected tropical diseases

Message from the Director
© WHO/NTD 2010. All rights reserved.

It is a year to the day since the World Health Organization (WHO) published its first report on neglected tropical diseases.

Almost always out of sight and rarely in news headlines, neglected tropical diseases are found exclusively among poor populations in deprived rural communities. They cause misery and disability, sometimes life-long, to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases, launched by WHO on 14 October 2010, provides evidence that existing safe, simple and effective interventions, implemented during the past seven years, are improving the health and quality of life of populations in 149 countries where many of the 17 diseases* occur. Approximately 90% of their burden can be treated with medicines administered only once or twice a year.

Evidence also demonstrates that control of neglected tropical diseases significantly reduces illness, social exclusion and mortality. Furthermore, prevention and control directly contributes to improved economic productivity and the achievement of several of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

In her address during the launch of the report, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan spoke of current “breakthrough” strategies to reduce the burden of these diseases. Accelerated efforts are needed to break the cycle of infection and disability, which result in lost opportunities that mire people in poverty. Dr Chan challenged the international community to show greater resolve in control of these diseases, and to produce “results”.

Today, we are continuing to make significant progress against neglected tropical diseases, some of which maim, cause anaemia, stunt children’s growth and compromise pregnancy outcomes. It is now known that urogenital schistosomiasis in women causes long-term irreversible consequences, including infertility. Many women in areas endemic for urogenital schistosomiasis have female genital schistosomiasis. There is also the plausibility of a possible link between female genital schistosomiasis and HIV acquisition in women. An increase in coverage of large-scale preventive treatment (preventive chemotherapy) for schistosomiasis will significantly decrease morbidity and may prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

*The 17 neglected tropical diseases are: dengue, rabies, trachoma, Buruli ulcer (Mycobacterium ulcerans infection), endemic treponematoses, leprosy (Hansen disease), Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis), human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, cysticercosis, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), echinococcosis, foodborne trematode infections, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharziasis) and soil-transmitted helminthiases.