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Two Tropical Diseases on Track for Eradication in 4 Years

  • Jessica Berman

A doctor examines a trachoma patient in Ethiopia, Nov. 3, 2014.

A doctor examines a trachoma patient in Ethiopia, Nov. 3, 2014.

By the year 2020, two neglected tropical diseases, lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, and trachoma, a blinding illness, may be eliminated in the world’s poorest countries, thanks to a partnership of governments, charitable foundations and pharmaceutical companies.

The U.S. provides the most funding for elimination of neglected tropical diseases, through the U.S. Agency for International Development. That funding, between 2006 and today, has provided 1.6 billion treatments in about 30 countries.

“In the areas that USAID has supported,” NTD program coordinator Emily Wainwright said, “there are going to be 400 million people who don’t have to worry about getting lymphatic filariasis again. We will have addressed that problem. And there will be about 184 million people who aren’t going to have to worry about getting trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness.”

According to the World Health Organization, neglected tropical diseases affect an estimated 1.5 billion people in the poorest countries.

Other diseases that are targeted for elimination include onchocerciasis, known as river blindness, schistosomiasis or snail fever, which causes intestinal and urogenital infections, and soil-transmitted helminthiasis, a systemic illness that causes diarrhea, fever, fatigue and malnutrition.

Children are disproportionately affected by the parasitic and bacterial illnesses, which stunt growth and affect brain development.

Recently, WHO released data showing that in 2015, 979 million people received preventive chemotherapy for neglected tropical diseases, an increase of 121 million from 2014.

More diseases are predicted to follow the path of elimination, according to Ariel Pablos-Mendez, assistant administrator for Global Health, Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID.

“Just like in polio,” he said, “which is in the last battle of the disease to remove from the face of the Earth, or leprosy, which is down 95 percent [from] the levels we used to have 50 years ago, these diseases we are in a position right now ... to end all of the diseases of extreme poverty by 2030.”

USAID’s Neglected Tropical Disease Program and the WHO have put a priority on eliminating 17 NTDs in 149 countries, where one in six people suffer from at least one of the illnesses.

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