Neglected Tropical Disease-What are they, why should you care and what can you do?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) include several parasitic, viral, and bacterial diseases that cause substantial illness. . . . Affecting the world’s poorest people, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development.” 

They include diseases that you may or may not have ever heard of as they are not common in the U.S., like trachoma, lymphatic filariasis (which causes elephantiasis), soil transmitted helminthiasis, more commonly known as intestinal worms, and leprosy (yes, it still exists). The diseases are caused by parasites that infect people, but are transmitted by mosquitoes or flies or contaminated environments.  Typically, these parasites are found in warmer climates or locations where people can’t avoid being exposed to infection and where they don’t have access to the treatments for these diseases. 

There are 20 NTDs and together they affect more than 1 billion people. Yes, a billion. Considering the world population is 7.8 billion that means about 1 in 7 people have one of these diseases. The diseases can be deadly, but more often they cause other major health issues and impact people’s quality of life. And they are treatable and preventable. 

 

Why should you care?

  1. No one wants anyone to live in pain, with a disease or with a disability, especially if it’s preventable or treatable. To make a difference, keep reading and learn a little about this topic and what you can do? 
  2. The health issues these diseases cause can disable people, which in turn makes them unable to work and contribute to society. They have a monetary impact on the world economy, which, although somewhat indirectly, impacts us all.
  3. Typically and currently, these diseases are found in warmer climates. But the world climate is changing. According to NASA Global Climate Change, “Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.”
  4. With warmer temperatures, it is important for all of us to 1) be aware of these diseases and 2) know about prevention and treatment, as one day we may be living in this warmer climate that supports the transmission of these parasites. 
  5. If you are a traveler, you may go to a location where these diseases exist. Some are highly communicable. But they are preventable and treatable so it’s good to be aware of preventive steps you need to take while traveling. 
  6. You may not be an NTD expert, but guess what? There are opportunities for experts from other fields to make a big impact on NTDs. Keep reading to find out how. 

 

What can be done?

Now that you know they exist, what is being done/can be done? There’s a whole global program that has emerged to respond to NTDs.  Every year for the past four years, medicines to prevent the spread of NTDs have reached more than one billion people. Since 2012, more than 12 billion treatments – donated by pharmaceutical giants like Merck, Pfizer, and GlaxoSmithKline– have been delivered to people around the world. The supply chain is so effective that it was recognized with a Guinness World Record in 2017 for the largest coordinated shipment of donated drugs – with more than 207 million doses distributed in 24 hours.

This massive drug delivery machine is powered by partners all over the world. Among the greatest contributors are the U.S. and U.K. governments, mounting a coordinated effort with a considerable return on investment. (Note: It only costs 63 cents to treat an individual for neglected tropical diseases.) 

 

So, with all of this being done, what can you do? 

While NTD programs are reaching large numbers of people, they aren’t perfect. For example, NTDs are preventable and treatable, but oftentimes people are unwilling to accept treatment due to disturbing rumors or misinformation they have heard. The Task Force for Global Health is hosting a virtual hackathon, “Spreading Truth, Not Disease,” on April 17 to solve this global health communication challenge that countries face today. 

We need people with a fresh perspective and experience in other disciplines to help identify creative solutions to this pressing challenge.  Sign up to join the hackathon on April 17. What is this hackathon? It’s a virtual event for college grad and undergrad students of any discipline to form teams (four people in total), to problem-solve this communication issue and compete to win $500 each ($2000 for the group). Interested in learning more? Click here.