The recent Ebola outbreak has shed a light on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) that most Americans have only heard of in passing or never heard of at all. What are NTDs you ask? Great question.
Neglected Tropical Diseases are a group of infections caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and helminths. The 17 WHO priority NTDs affect more than 1 billion people in 149 countries. The 7 most common NTDs are Ascariasis (roundworm), Hookworm, Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantiasis), Onchocerciasis (river blindness), Schistosomiasis (bilharzia or “snail fever”), Trachoma, and Trichuriasis. NTDs cause children to miss school due to illness, cause preventable blindness and physical disability, prevent adults from earning an income, and cause complications with the treatment of other diseases such as HIV.
The good thing is that most of these diseases can be controlled through medication, vector management such as pesticide application, and community health tactics such as ensuring safe drinking water.
Now that you know more about NTDs, you may be asking yourself why you should care since we don’t have these diseases in the developed world?
Well these NTDs aren’t as far removed from us as you may think. Trachoma and worms used to be endemic in the US and Europe but were eliminated through improvements in sanitation, hygiene, and medical treatment. NTDs are keeping the bottom billion people at the bottom. Imagine what your life would be like if these NTDs hadn’t been eliminated from your country.
Global climate change combined with human exploration (via necessity usually) into previously uninhabited areas is resulting in the presence of these diseases where they didn’t previously exist. The Huffington Post has an article detailing the emergence of Buruli ulcer, a flesh-eating bacterial infection, in Ghana due to expansion of the gold mining trade.
In addition, in Myanmar is still struggling with the ancient scourge of Leprosy, even though it has been “eliminated” since 2003.
While some of these NTDs are not particularly infectious or are soil-based and thus may not survive in certain parts of the US, Ebola has shown us how diseases that exist “over there” are not to be ignored. It is in our best interest to work to eliminate NTDs around the world. Thankfully, the WHO states that guinea-worm disease is targeted for eradication in 2015 and yaws in 2020, while blinding trachoma, human African trypanosomiasis, leprosy and lymphatic filariasis are targeted for elimination by 2020.
The Carter Center is doing great work to eradicate and eliminate the NTDs, to learn more about their work and to donate check them out here.
What are your thoughts on the NTDs? How do you think your life would be different if you lived in an area still plagued by NTDs?
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