How Can We Help? The Rising Danger of Neglected Tropical Diseases Since Covid
‘Neglected tropical diseases’(NTDs) refer to a group of illnesses – likeDengue and Malaria – that often get overlooked for international and domestic funding (hence ‘neglected’). Some of these diseases are deadly and infectious, even though there are existing treatments that can prevent them.
Outbreaks of these diseases are typically in countries that are under-developed, suffer poverty or have inadequate systems and sanitation. But in recent years, there have been rising cases in developed countries, too, such as Ebola, chikungunya, West Nile, and Zika virus infections in the US.
While these diseases struggle to get attention, some can be easily controlled – or even eradicated – through effective strategies.These include better access to medicines, controlling transmission (such as mosquitos), or improving water and hygiene. This reduces the risk of local infection, as well as spreading it to other countries.
In the last decade, there has been coordinated global efforts from groups and agenciesto help countries work towards eradicating some of these diseases. However, the Inter Press Servicereported that since covid, this progress is at “real risk.”
The risk is mostly attributed to several factors:
1. Mass medicine programmes were interrupted or stopped;a big issue was lockdown and social distancing, as well as issues with global trade and transport. The World Health Organizationreported that programmes were interrupted in 60% of countries.
2. Some countries with low healthcare budgets were forced to divert their limited resources to other priorities. This affected campaigns at a local level.
3. International support has also been subject to economic issues and some funding has been re-prioritized. For example, in April 2021, the UK withdrew £150 million of NTD funding. This is equivalent to treating around 250 million people, as well as up to 180,000 surgeries to prevent disabilities.
The long-term risk of delaying these treatments means affected countries get stuck in cycles: theystruggle to control infection and the loss of lives,while simultaneously burdening their healthcare systems.The health inequality continuesas long as these countries are forced to surrender resources and precious budget to these diseases, instead of to other much-need growth.
These issues are compounded when faced with another pandemic; for example the pandemic highlighted that African countries could only provide a third ofthe medical oxygenrequired during the third wave of covid-19.
These downturns also come at a time when covid has left almost one-third workers without jobs, while the other two-thirds saw their incomes decrease almost 16%, in countries that had data available. This has left millions of people in poverty; this means they live on less than $1.90 per day and are unlikely to be able to seek or afford treatment.
Of course, because of the risk of outbreaks, the control of NTD in these countries are to the benefit of the international community.
Do These Diseases Even Matter?
It is not the first time the attention on NTDs has been questioned. When Ebola broke out in West Africa at the end of 2013, global attention turned tothe three-most affected countries –Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – to ensure the outbreak could be contained.
However, in this journal article, Peter Hotez discussesthe evidence that other NTDs were far more widespread and required urgent attention as well. He compared the amount of Ebola infected patients in the three above-mentioned countries – around 27,000 at the time of his report – to the millions affected by NTDs. A Swiss Health Institute reported that more than 2 million children suffer from hookworm alone in those countries.
Today, there are more than 10 million sufferers of NTD in those countries, almost half of their total populations. Many people have several NTDs.
Are Global Efforts Enough?
Campaigns to control NTD are considered a ‘best buy’ in development because the return on investment on every dollar is so high. However, a strong momentum is required in order to achieve results, such as completing a national program where everyone is administered treatment for a particular disease.
Some agencies havelaunched programs to help control NTDs, such as United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM) and the US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). These programs have helped millions receive treatment.
Additionally, in the last 10 years, other global efforts have focused on helping control these diseases, under the London Declaration on NTD which aims to reduce the impact of ten NTDs. Since 2012, they report having 14 billion donated treatments and helping 36 countries eliminate at least one NTD.
However, in Hotez’s report, he concludes that“dedicated independent support and commitment for health systems will also be required.”
How Can Individuals Help?
With many NTDs, timely treatment is key to recovery. However, there are many obstacles to getting access to healthcare in many African countries. KimboCare’s platform could provide a model solution on how to overcome a huge variety between African countries and how their health systems work.Foremost, this is because you can donate through a secure platform, where local practitioners are able to directly provide timely treatment through their local system. You can read about how tosend money to cover healthcare costs of someone who needs urgent care in another country.
What are Neglected Diseases?
The CDC lists the following as NTDs:
1. Buruli Ulcer – ulcers on the skin or bone
2. Chagas Disease – caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi
3. Cysticercosis –a tissue infection caused by the tapeworm Taenia solium
4. Dengue Fever – a mosquito-borne illness
5. Dracunculiasis – also known as Guinea Worm Disease
6. Echinococcosis – an infection with tiny tapeworms
7. Fascioliasis – a parasitic infection commonly found in sheep and cattle that can transfer to humans
8. Human African Trypanosomiasis – the African Sleeping Sickness
9. Leishmaniasis – more than 90 sandfly species are known to transmit Leishmania parasites
10. Leprosy – or Hansen’s Disease
11. Lymphatic Filariasis – lymph disease caused by microscopic, thread-like worms
12. Mycetoma – swelling beneath the skin that leads to nodules
13. Onchocerciasis – “river blindness” caused by a worm
14. Rabies – viral disease that can pass from animals to humans
15. Schistosomiasis – “snail fever” caused by parasitic flatworms
16. Soil-transmitted Helminths (STH) – Ascaris, Hookworm, and Whipworm
17. Trachoma – an infection that roughens the inner eyelid surface
Below is alist of some of the above diseases that can be easily controlled, eliminated or eradicated:
1. Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease)
2. Lymphatic Filariasis
5. Soil-transmitted Helminths (STH) (i.e., Ascaris, Hookworm, and Whipworm)