The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported unprecedented progress against 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), thanks to a new global strategy, a regular supply of quality assured, cost-effective medicines and support from global partners.
The diseases in focus include Dengue, Rabies, Trachoma, Buruli ulcer, Endemic treponematoses (includes yaws), Leprosy, and Chagas disease.
Others are human African trypanosomiasis, Leishmaniases, taenaisis/cysticercosis, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), echinococcosis/hydatidosis, and foodborne trematodiases.
The rest are lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminthiases.
A report entitled: “Sustaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases”, released by the WHO office in Geneva and copied to the Ghana News Agency, announced that a new momentum had shifted the world closer to the elimination of many of those conditions that take their greatest toll amongst the poor.
It indicated that progress had been made in controlling, eliminating and eradicating NTDs, and said two were targeted for global eradication, namely dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) in 2015 and yaws in 2020.
The report further outlined six targets set for the elimination of five diseases in 2015 and a further 10 targets for nine diseases for 2020, either globally or in selected geographical areas.
“With this new phase in the control of these diseases, we are moving ahead towards achieving universal health coverage with essential interventions.
“The challenge now is to strengthen capacity of national disease programmes in endemic countries and streamline supply chains to get the drugs to the people who need them, when they need them”, the report quoted Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.
It stated that donation of medicines and funding through an alignment of international partners had helped fast-track actions and initiatives that were now having a measurable impact in affected countries with considerable scale-up of preventive chemotherapy interventions.
According to the report, this involves the widespread delivery of safe, single-dose, quality-assured medicines as preventive treatment against five anthelminthic (worm) diseases and trachoma (chlamydial infection).
It said in 2010 alone, 711 million people received treatment for at least one of the four diseases (lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases) targeted for preventive chemotherapy, which involved the widespread delivery of safe, single-dose, quality-assured medicines as preventive treatment.
It added that over the next five years, WHO projects that treatment for schistosomiasis (bilharzia) will reach 235 million people, which will be achieved by increasing availability of medicines by using donated medicines and improved distribution at country level.
“The prospects for success have never been so strong … Many millions of people are being freed from the misery and disability that have kept populations mired in poverty, generation after generation, for centuries”, the report cited the WHO Director-General again.
Other highlights of the report included the eradication of guinea worm. It said WHO had reported a reduction in reported cases of dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease) with only 521 cases between January and September 2012 compared with 1006 confirmed cases for the same period in 2011 and of human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) to less than 7,000 in 2011 from a high of 30,000 annual cases at the turn of the century.
Also, the elimination of rabies in several countries, with WHO eyeing regional elimination of this preventable disease by 2020. It stated that a new strategy which involved the early detection and use of antibiotics to treat Buruli ulcer had drastically reduced suffering and disability from this chronic and debilitating skin condition.
It touched on an evaluation of WHO’s new strategy, which aims at eradicating yaws by 2020 using a new oral antibiotic treatment designed to replace those developed in the 1950s (which mainly centered on delivering injections of benzathine benzylpenicillin).
The report further hinted on threats posed by dengue, saying that in 2012, dengue ranked as the fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease, with an epidemic potential in the world, registering a 30-fold increase in disease incidence over the past 50 years. “The world needs to change its reactive approach and implement sustainable preventive measures”, it stressed.
The report analysed some challenges that remained at country level, and emphasized the need for national disease control programmes to improve coordination and integration.
It also highlighted the need to strengthen human resources and to work with other sectors such as education, agriculture and veterinary public health in disease control programmes.