“By 2030, (neglected tropical) diseases could be part of history,” said Dr. Dirk Engels, director of the WHO Neglected Tropical Diseases department. “In general, I can say there is a lot of progress that is being made.”
Poor people who live in remote, rural areas, urban slums and conflict zones are most at risk for these diseases, which generally flourish in places where unsafe water, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, and poor housing conditions are status quo.
Hero origin story
“That combination has been extremely powerful and constructive,” said Dr. Julie Jacobson, an expert in the field and a representative of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene. Looking at the data before and after the WHO published its first plan in 2008, global achievements in reducing neglected diseases went from “pretty stagnant” to “increasing, sequentially, every year, the number of people that have been reached and countries that have achieved their targets,” said Jacobson.
“There’s now nine countries that have been validated as eliminating lymphatic filariasis, on a national scale,” said Jacobson, who added that the first country in Africa, Togo, was announced this week. Lymphatic filariasis, commonly called elephantiasis, is a mosquito-borne infection that causes abnormal enlargement of limbs and genitals.
The WHO also reports a total of 556 million people received preventive treatment for elephantiasis since the initiative began.
“You know we’re not going to hit every 2020 target,” said Jacobson. Still, she added, the substantial progress made by collaborative efforts across the globe is “very impressive.”
The 5 interventions
In its roadmap, WHO recommends five interventions for controlling neglected tropical diseases.
The first two — preventive chemotherapy and innovative disease management — Engels refers to as “medical interventions,” since both involve direct treatment for patients.
“There are some diseases where you can only treat early when the symptoms occur, like sleeping sickness, like Chagas disease, like leishmaniases,” said Engels.
The aim of medical interventions, then, is to help people early “because sometimes when you’re too…