What are Neglected Tropical Diseases?

What are Neglected Tropical Diseases?

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of communicable diseases and caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites that continuously affect more than 1 billion people globally. Despite ongoing measures, NTDs are still prevalent in vulnerable and low-income countries such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America. NTDs are comprised of 20 different medical diseases and mostly target women and children of susceptible communities.

These groups of diseases have complex life cycles and often occur as a result of abrupt changes in the environment. NTDs are transmitted by the consumption of contaminated food and/or water, or by vector bite. Due to multiple factors, public health measures can be challenging. According to WHO, each year about 200,000 deaths and 19 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) are lost.

Public Health Measures Implication

Over the years, various public health measures and efforts have been introduced to eradicate and control NTDs. Currently, there are 3 main measures that healthcare professionals integrate to remove or diminish the prevalence of NTDs. These include incorporating drug administration, vector control, and public health surveillance. 

Drug administration - Similar to any medical condition, NTDs (infectious diseases) can be treated with medications. However, not all NTDs are treated with medications - currently, only a few and these include trachoma, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, and soil-transmitted helminthes. In developing countries, an essential part of incorporating drug treatment is acquiring donations to be able to achieve a mass of drug administration programs. 

Vector control - This measure includes interventions such as insect repellent, insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, installing screens, and wearing proper clothing. In some diseases, diagnostic tests are applied. 

Public health surveillance - In this area, accurate and reliable data is vital to track the prevalence of any NTDs. This involves collecting and processing samples, compiling data, and designing surveillance systems. Public health surveillance incorporates screening and treating people who are at risk or infected. At present, 4 NTDs can be controlled and these include trypanosomiasis, leprosy, leishmaniasis, and Chagas disease. 


The Consequences Poor Communities Face

Although continuous preventive measures, control, and treatment are being implicated, people of poorer countries are still at risk or diagnosed with NTDs. NTDs can lead to detrimental health effects such as blindness, anemia, cognitive impairment, complicated pregnancies, and impairment of children’s growth and development. People in poorer areas are still vulnerable due to insufficient healthcare access and services, and/or lack of health education.
People in developing countries are hugely impacted by NTDs as compared to people in wealthier countries. When people’s health is negatively impacted, it substantially impacts their way of living. Countries and/or organizations need to help in the donation of mass drugs and increase health knowledge in less privileged countries. 

In response to the ongoing global situation, WHO has developed a new NTD road map for 2021-2030 - an action to prevent, control, and eradicate NTDs. The goal is to assist in multiple interventions such as controlling vector, veterinary public health water, preventive chemotherapy, individual case management, and sanitation and hygiene. The road map targets the following: decreasing the number of people getting NTDs treatment by 90%; reducing DALYs by 75%; eradicating at least one NTD in 100 countries; and complete eradication of two NTDs (yaws and dracunculiasis). 


Educating On Preventive Measures

Health knowledge is an essential element to prevent the occurrence of any medical disease. It is important to educate people especially women and children of less privileged communities to lessen morbidity and mortality. Simple preventive measures can be taught and these include hand and food hygiene, clean and/or boiling water, sanitary food handling, the use of insect repellents, insecticide-treated nets, window/door screens, and wearing proper clothing.

Globally, everyone is focusing on various public health interventions to control, prevent, eliminate, and eradicate NTDs. However, an important aspect of preventing NTDs is education - here, with Audiopedia, we create audible health knowledge for women and children in susceptible communities and spread medical knowledge to lessen mortality and morbidity. 


Further Reading: 

WHO. Neglected tropical diseases. 2021. Available from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/neglected-tropical-diseases

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Neglected tropical diseases. 1991-2021. Available from: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/our-work/programs/global-health/neglected-tropical-diseases


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