The Scope

Video: The war against schistosomiasis and other hard-to-pronounce neglected tropical diseases

Since 2007, international health organisations have been working towards eliminating 10 common neglected tropical diseases.

Dracunculiasis, onchocerciasis, echinococcosis, schistosomiasis – these almost unpronounceable words are names of neglected tropical diseases that affect billions of people. A global collaboration headed by the World Health Organisation has been working for the last 10 years to control these diseases.

One billion people were treated for at least one neglected tropical disease in 2015 alone, the World Health Organisation reported on Wednesday. The organisation is calling the progress over the last 10 years towards eliminating these diseases “record-breaking”.

Neglected tropical diseases are a group of communicable diseases that are found tropical and subtropical regions across 149. These diseases affect more than one billion people, mainly those living in poverty, and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.

Neglected tropical diseases found in India include dengue, rabies, leprosy, kala azar and filariasis. Large populations across Africa are also affected by neglected tropical diseases.

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While celebrating 10 years of a global collaboration against neglected tropical diseases, the WHO noted its achievements. For instance, only 25 human cases of guinea-worm disease were recorded in 2016, putting eradication of the disease within reach. More than 114 million people received treatment for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. Cases of sleeping sickness or African trypanosomiasis have been reduced from 37,000 new cases in 1999 to less than 3,000 cases in 2015. In India, visceral leishmaniasis or kala azar was eliminated in 82% of the sub-districts where the disease was endemic.

This video, partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that supports the WHO’s programme against neglected tropical diseases, why these diseases are neglected and the sustained efforts needed to eliminate them.

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Much of the success in controlling the diseases has been attributed to mass drug distribution with donations of free medicines from pharmaceutical companies. In fact, nine drug companies including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Sanofi have pledged to continue to donate drugs and treatments till the WHO’s elimination targets are met.

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