Dengue fever, chikungunya, leprosy… The WHO on Monday called for increased investment in the fight against neglected tropical diseases that affect more than 1.6 billion people, pathologies neglected because they only affect the world’s poorest countries.
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are common in areas where there is no access to safe water, sanitation and health care.
“These diseases are +ignored+ because they are almost non-existent on the global health agenda,” said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a message released on the occasion of World NTD Day.
“They are given little money and come with stigma and social exclusion,” he added.
In 2021, about 1.65 billion people needed treatment for at least one of these RNTs, 80 million fewer than in 2020.
Over the past decade, the number of people in need of treatment has declined. In 2010, there were another 2.19 billion, the WHO says in a new report.
But 16 countries account for 80% of the global burden of NTDs. These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Tanzania.
Despite the difficulties in controlling these diseases, by the end of 2022, 47 countries had eradicated at least one of them. Moreover, eight of these countries liquidated one in the last year alone.
“Millions of people around the world have been lifted from the burden of neglected tropical diseases,” said Dr Tedros, stressing that much remains to be done.
“The good news is that we have the tools and know-how to not only save lives and prevent suffering, but to free entire communities and countries from these diseases,” he said.
– “It’s time to act” –
NTDs are a diverse group of 20 conditions found primarily in tropical areas where they affect poorer communities. These diseases, such as Chagas disease, dengue fever, chikungunya, and leprosy, are caused by various pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and toxins).
Their epidemiology is complex and often related to environmental conditions. Many are vector-borne, originate from animal reservoirs and are associated with “complex life cycles”, according to the WHO.
All these factors make it difficult to control these diseases from a public health point of view.
In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic and the evolution in funding make it difficult to combat NTDs.
“The time has come to act now, act together and invest in NTDs,” urged Dr. Tedros.
According to Dr Sauce Voll, director of NTD at the WHO, these diseases are ignored by the international community because they do not affect developed countries.
By way of comparison, he pointed out that the fight against Mpox (formerly called monkeypox) only began when the disease began to spread in rich countries last year, after the disease had been endemic in African countries for many years.
“We are far away” from reaching the level of investment needed to fight NTDs, he told reporters last Friday.
“It’s time for more justice. We must protect people wherever they are and whatever their social status,” he said.