Many of the bacterial and parasitic worm infections commonly associated with the tropics are becoming rampant in some Central Asian countries in the former Soviet Union. That's the finding of a new study of that region's worsening public health problem.
Neglected tropical diseases threaten the lives of a billion people worldwide, mostly in Africa, Latin America and South Asia. But a recent study shows the scourge spreading in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Doctors say victims with chronic parasitic and bacterial infections are left blind, disabled and disfigured - trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease. Children are the hardest hit. They experience developmental and cognitive delays that can interfere with school work, and their ability as adults to find productive employment.
Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston, Texas, said, “Beyond the parasitic and worm infections, we are finding bacterial infections, such as brucellosis and leptospirosis, parasitic protozoan infections, such as toxoplasmosis. You are probably looking at me saying, 'Gee I have never heard of these diseases.' That’s part of the problem."
Hotez said many policy makers and health professionals do not even know about these infections - hook worm, tape worm, brucellosis. They are spread by livestock, and can be transmitted through soil, salted fish and meat from unregulated slaughterhouses.
“We need to have a program to really look at what are the mechanisms by which these diseases are transmitted," said Hotez. "And then we have to develop strategies for controlling these diseases. And finally, we often don’t have tools to adequately diagnose these diseases or treat them or prevent them. So it means building in a research program for new diagnostics, new drugs or new vaccines.”
Health officials say despite this new study, the suspect neglected tropical diseases are vastly under-reported in Central Asia, and could be even more widespread than now is believed.