Neglected tropical diseases

New phase in fight against neglected tropical diseases heralds universal access to health interventions for world’s poorest

From left to right: Dr Hiroki Nakatani, ADG/HTM; Mr Jean-Philippe Tiémoko Moriko, Conseiller Mission Permanente de Côte d'Ivoire; Dr Lorenzo Savioli, Director NTD; Ms Kris Easter, USAID, US Mission to the UN/Geneva and Mr Mario Ottiglio, Director Public Affairs and Global Health Policy.
Sustained commitment key to reaching eradication and elimination targets by 2020


Geneva | 16 January 2013 – The World Health Organization’s second report on neglected tropical diseases published today highlights unprecedented progress during the past two years.

Renewed momentum has shifted the world closer to eliminating many of these conditions that take their greatest toll among the poor, thanks to a new global strategy, a regular supply of quality-assured, cost-effective medicines and support from global partners.

Support from countries endemic for these diseases and partners have helped fast-track actions and initiatives that are now having a measurable impact in affected countries and considerable scaling up of preventive chemotherapy. This intervention involves the widespread delivery of single-dose, quality-assured medicines. In 2010 alone, 711 million people received treatment for at least one of the four diseases targeted for preventive chemotherapy (lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases).

“With this new phase in the control of these diseases, we are moving ahead towards achieving universal health coverage with essential interventions,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “The challenge now is to strengthen capacity of national disease programmes in endemic countries and streamline supply chains to get the drugs to the people who need them, when they need them.”

Over the next five years, WHO projects that treatment for schistosomiasis (bilharzia) will reach 235 million people. This will be achieved by increasing availability of medicines (praziquantel) using gifts of medicines and improved distribution at country level.

While the report defines the concept of elimination and eradication, it also analyses some challenges that remain at country level, such as improving coordination and integration of national disease control programmes. It also focuses on an urgent need to strengthen human resources and to work with other sectors such as education, agriculture and veterinary public health in disease control programmes.

Key highlights of the report include:

  • Eradication of dracunculiasis is in sight. WHO reports a reduction in the number of reported cases of dracunculiasis to 521 cases between January and September 2012 compared with 1006 confirmed cases for the same period in 2011 and of human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) to less than 7000 in 2011 from a high of 30 000 annual cases at the turn of the century.
  • Rabies has been eliminated in several countries, and WHO anticipates regional elimination of this preventable disease by 2020. A new strategy involving the early detection and use of antibiotics to treat Buruli ulcer has drastically reduced suffering and disability from this chronic and debilitating skin condition. An evaluation of WHO’s new strategy, which aims at eradicating yaws by 2020, using a new oral antibiotic treatment designed to replace those developed in the 1950s and which mainly centered on delivering injections of benzathine benzylpenicillin.
  • Threats posed by dengue: in 2012, dengue ranked as the fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease, with an epidemic potential in the world, registering a 30-fold increase in disease incidence over the past 50 years. The world needs to change its reactive approach and implement sustainable preventive measures.

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