News / Health

WHO Reports Progress in Fight Against Tropical Diseases

A researcher looks at mosquito specimen in a test tube as part of their analysis on the dengue disease at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa city, south of Manila, August 17, 2011.
A researcher looks at mosquito specimen in a test tube as part of their analysis on the dengue disease at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa city, south of Manila, August 17, 2011.
Lisa Schlein
The eradication of some of the world’s neglected tropical diseases is in sight, according to the World Health Organization. The U.N. agency said in a report issued Wednesday that a new global strategy enacted in 2010 is resulting in unprecedented progress against 17 such diseases.

The regular supply of quality assured, cost-effective medicines and support from global partners is at the heart of the new global strategy.  In the past two years, millions of people afflicted with 17 of the world’s neglected tropical diseases have benefited from receiving regular treatment.  The World Health Organization says this achievement is giving new momentum to efforts to eliminate these conditions.

The director of WHO’s Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Lorenzo Savioli, says WHO is preparing a road map for the elimination, eradication or control of particular diseases between 2015 and 2020.

He says much of the success of the global strategy is based upon the widespread delivery of safe drugs to treat these ailments.

“We have the evidence that over 700 million treatments were delivered regularly every year to the people in need, to the poorest people in the poorest sections of the world. Of the best treatment for the poorest people are delivered every year in a regular way," Savioli said. "In Africa for instance, 36 out of 44 countries have readied plans to implement programs and these programs are expanding progressively and the political commitment from these countries is very much improving.”

WHO is targeting the global eradication of guinea worm disease in 2015 and yaws in 2020.  The report outlines six targets set for the elimination of five diseases in 2015 and another 10 targets for nine diseases for 2020, either globally or in selected geographical areas.  

WHO estimates that up to 200 million people are infected with schistosomiasis, a major parasitic disease, in parts of South America, Asia and Africa.  It kills about 280,000 people every year in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the next five years, WHO projects treatment for schistosomiasis will reach 235 million people.  The United Nations health agency says increasing the availability of donated medicines and improving distribution at the country level will make this possible.

Mario Ottiglio is associate director of Global Health Policy for the International Federation for Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Association.  He says that last year his industry announced the donation of 14 billion treatments to control or eliminate nine NTDs responsible for 90 percent of the total disease burden.

“Our industry is on track with all the commitments made last year -- especially with donations.  In some cases, like schistosomiasis, the overall commitment will see also doubling of the donations that we had to date…While we have an important role to play, while WHO has a fundamental role to play, it’s also important that a lot of pieces come together," Ottiglio stated. "So, improving sanitation, increasing access to safe water, having the necessary infrastructure, strengthening capacity building, and in making sure we do investment to reinforce health systems that are often weak and overburdened in the low and middle-income countries.”

WHO estimates NTDs affect more than 1 billion people in all continents of the world.  Neglected tropical diseases can strike wherever poverty exists. Africa is the continent where most of these dreaded infections are found. But in terms of numbers, Asia is where the burden of disease is highest.

WHO says the prospects of freeing millions of people from the misery and disability that have mired them in poverty for centuries have never been so strong.  But, it warns the dangers persist and people must remain vigilant.  WHO says they must do whatever it takes to eliminate these devastating diseases. 

For example, it notes dengue fever is increasing because of urbanization, the rapid movement of people in groups and climate change.  Last year, it notes, dengue ranked as the fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease, with an epidemic potential in the world.

WHO says the world needs to move away from reacting after the fact.  It must implement sustainable preventive measures to blunt the threats posed by this disease.

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