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WHO Appeals for Greater Commitment Against 'Neglected' Tropical Diseases

The World Health Organization has called for a renewed commitment from governments around the world to combat tropical diseases that affect a third of the world's population and cause social and economic upheaval. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has more from Jakarta.

Experts from the World Health Organization say that while diseases such as bird flu are drawing attention around the world, many tropical diseases pose a much greater threat to people in impoverished nations, including Indonesia.

At a WHO meeting in Jakarta, experts reported that around two billion people living in tropical countries suffer needlessly from debilitating and disfiguring diseases such as leprosy. They say these diseases usually can be easily and cheaply treated.

The WHO Southeast Asian director of communicable diseases, Jai Narain, says there is little international focus on these diseases.

"Neglected tropical diseases are, as name indicates, neglected. Neglected by policy makers, by research communities, and also by international community. But at the same time these diseases cause considerable amount of suffering, disability, disfigurement, and even social-economic impact, particularly for those populations which are already extremely marginalized from the society."

Many of these diseases, such as the potentially deadly visceral leishmaniasis, which is caused by a sandfly bite, effect the poorest of the poor. They are often more easily spread by inadequate sanitation and overcrowded living conditions.

David Molyneux is the executive secretary of the Global Alliance for Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis - a disfiguring disease caused by mosquitoes that is commonly called elephantiasis. He says the cost of treating these diseases is negligible.

"And those interventions can be delivered in some cases just once a year at a cost, and I reference that cost because it is particularly important and it is proven across the world - at probably less than 10 cents per person treated per year," he said.

Molyneux says there has been great success at treating and eliminating these diseases since the World Health Organization and its partners first met in 2005 to address the issue, but more needs to be done.

"I believe that if we build in a system ... as part of the routine health services, then we will go somewhere, and very fast, because this is an intervention which is akin to vaccination. It is a human right to protect children from these conditions when it is so eminently doable," he said.

The World Health Organization says it will use the Jakarta meeting to identify the next steps that need to be taken to eradicate these tropical diseases.