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Analytical summary - Neglected tropical diseases

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Neglected tropical diseases are, in the main, parasitic diseases that thrive in conditions of poverty and low environmental standards. These diseases impose a heavy burden on populations in the WHO African Region, not only because they are neglected, but also due to the high levels of disability and hence lost productivity they represent to already vulnerable communities. In addition, the chronic nature of neglected tropical diseases places a perpetual burden on weak and overstretched health systems.

Number of reported cases of leprosy in the WHO African Region, 2009

Neglected tropical diseases account for 25% of all disability-adjusted life years attributable to infectious and parasitic diseases, and for 10% of mortality. While these diseases constitute a significant public health problem in the communities where they are endemic, their restriction to particular geographic areas and/or environmental conditions often prevents them from acquiring priority status at national level.

The most effective treatment for five commonly occurring neglected tropical diseases is mass-administered preventive chemotherapy over a number of years. Although the cost of such treatment is low, it is still beyond the reach of many governments and individuals, and coverage levels remain too low.

In addition to drugs and health education, other containment measures consist of environmental health improvements, particularly in respect of safe water supply and improved sanitation.

The neglected tropical diseases of most concern in African countries – many of which have received attention through World Health Assembly Resolutions – are Buruli ulcer, guinea-worm disease (dracunculiasis), human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis and trachoma (including blinding trachoma).

The role played by these and other neglected tropical diseases in perpetuating poverty and stigmatization in poor and vulnerable communities should provide strong impetus to WHO's Global Plan to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2008–2015.[1]

References

  1. Global Plan to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (pdf 291.11kb). Geneva, World Health Organization, 2007