Neglected tropical diseases

Neglected tropical diseases: unprecedented 979 million people treated in 2015 alone

30 September 2016 ¦ Geneva –– The World Health Organization (WHO) has released data for 2015 showing that a record 979 million people benefited from large-scale treatment of at least one neglected tropical disease in 2015 alone. This unprecedented achievement may be the first time that so many people have been treated globally as part of a public health intervention in one single year.

“This is a monumental public health achievement. Reaching 979 million people spread out across the globe in one single year involves intensive planning and coordination” said Dr Dirk Engels, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “It involved providing more than 1.2 billion treatments to those who need them most, both in rural and underserved urban areas.”

WHO recommends integrated treatment of helminth infections by reaching all eligible individuals at risk through preventive chemotherapy1 involving mass drug administration or large-scale treatment. This modality of treatment prevents transmission and enables the management of morbidity of those affected by diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases and also the bacterial infection that causes trachoma.

As well as the gradual scale-up of preventive chemotherapy and as part of global efforts to accelerate the expansion of preventive chemotherapy to eliminate and control these diseases over the years, WHO has created practical tools to facilitate the supply of medicines donated by the pharmaceutical industry.

“We developed a joint mechanism to facilitate the process of application and the delivery of medicines free of charge to countries requesting them” said Dr Gautam Biswas, Coordinator, Preventive Chemotherapy and Transmission Control unit, Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at WHO headquarters in Geneva. “This mechanism allows for better planning, forecasting, review, reporting and, above all, inflow of data that improves coordination and integration among different programmes.”

Safe, quality-assured medicines are largely donated through WHO by pharmaceutical companies. In 2015, a total of 1.5 billion tablets were shipped to countries requesting medicines through WHO. In return, countries are asked to report on the annual progress of their control and elimination interventions relevant to the target diseases.

Since the Joint Application Package2 was introduced in 2012, there has been a net improvement in standardizing the collection of a massive load of data received from national programmes and health ministries.

In 2016, 74 countries reported data to WHO, of which 68 reported through the Joint Reporting Form.

1 The large-scale delivery of free and safe, single-dose, quality-assured medicines, either alone or in combination, at regular intervals to treat selected diseases.
2 The Joint Application Package is designed to assist countries in reporting annual progress on integrated and coordinated distribution of medicines across diseases in the reporting year in a standardized format.

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Ashok Moloo
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Twitter: @ntdworld