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WHO Outlines Strategy to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases

The international pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline announced October 14 that it will donate 400 million more tablets for the treatment of intestinal worms in children. This comes as the World Health Organization is calling on drug companies to donate more medicine to help to eradicate tropical diseases. The WHO says in a new report that one billion people in the world's poorest countries are chronically ill from tropical diseases that receive little attention from drug manufacturers and health organizations.

The diseases - leishmanaisis, chagas, dengue and 14 others - are unknown to many people in developed countries, or are thought to have been eradicated long ago.

But the World Health Organization says they cause massive, hidden suffering that keeps millions of people in poverty. And the WHO is calling on governments, donors and pharmaceutical companies to help reduce those numbers significantly.

Dr. Peter Hotez is an expert in tropical diseases. He says that these parasitic diseases are rampant even though they are easily treatable.

"The neglected tropical disease program of USAID, which is also funded through global health initiatives, in some cases can lead to the elimination of some very important neglected tropical diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, possibly river blindness and leprosy," he said.

Dr. Hotez says that these diseases can often be treated with a single pill. But there is often is no funding for proven and inexpensive treatments.

"Out of 10 billion [dollars] spent annually, only 65 million, less than one percent, is spent on neglected tropical diseases. We have to begin bringing that up because these conditions are just as important and we can do something about them through mass drug administration."

The WHO reports that the global effort against Guinea worm has yielded remarkable results - a 99 percent decline in the disease. People in affected villages use screens to keep Guinea worm eggs out of their drinking water and out of their bodies.

Through the Carter Center, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has led the battle against Guinea worm and river blindness, in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.

President Carter told VOA he is confident Guinea worm will be eradicated in his lifetime.

"There's only been one disease in the history of humankind ever eradicated, and that was smallpox more than 30 years ago," said Jimmy Carter. "Guinea worm is soon going to be only the second disease in history to be wiped off the face of the Earth."

In Africa and Asia, the WHO says rabies vaccines prevents approximately 272,000 deaths each year.

The WHO report says one of the most effective strategies in controlling the neglected tropical diseases is mass scale preventative chemotherapy.

Under this therapy an entire population identified as susceptible to parasitic diseases is given tablets that can guard against several diseases at once.

Disease-free, the WHO says these people can care for their children, tend their farms and hope for a better life.