April 19, 2017
2 min read

WHO report highlights ‘remarkable achievements’ in neglected tropical diseases

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According to a WHO report released today at the Global Partners’ Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases, “remarkable achievements” have been made in combatting neglected tropical diseases over the past decade.

The report, “Integrating Neglected Tropical Diseases in Global Health and Development,” states that approximately 1 billion people — the highest number ever — received treatment for at least one neglected tropical disease (NTD) in 2015 alone. The progress is the result of local and international partnerships that worked together to implement five key interventions recommended by WHO, which include preventive chemotherapy; innovative and intensified disease management; vector ecology and management; veterinary public health services; and the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

Margaret Chan
Margaret Chan

“WHO has observed record-breaking progress towards bringing ancient scourges like sleeping sickness and elephantiasis to their knees, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, said in a press release. “Over the past 10 years, millions of people have been rescued from disability and poverty, thanks to one of the most effective global partnerships in modern public health.”

Increased efforts against NTDs began in 2007, when a group of global partners decided to collaborate to combat the diseases, which are restricted to tropical and subtropical areas with unsafe water and inadequate hygiene and sanitation, according to WHO. Since then, local and international partners worked with endemic countries to provide people with care and distribute medications donated by pharmaceutical companies, which increased more than four-fold from 353 million in 2009 to more than 1.5 billion in 2015.

After increasing efforts against NTDs, WHO reported that in 2015: 

  • 556 million people received preventive elephantiasis treatment;
  • more than 114 million received onchocerciasis treatment;
  • only 25 human cases of dracunculiasis were reported worldwide — a substantial reduction from the estimated 3.5 million cases in 1986;
  • human African trypanosomiasis cases decreased from 37,000 new cases in 1999 to less than 3,000 cases;
  • trachoma — the leading infectious cause of blindness — was eliminated as a public health issue in Mexico, Morocco and Oman;
  • 82% of sub-districts in India, 97% of sub-districts in Bangladesh and all districts in Nepal met the elimination target for visceral leishmaniasis; and
  • only 12 deaths attributed to rabies were identified in the Americas.

Despite these accomplishments, WHO underscored the need to further scale up efforts in certain areas. According to the organization, approximately 2.4 billion people still do not have access to sanitation facilities such as toilets and latrines, and more than 660 million drink water from “unimproved” sources.

“Some elimination targets for 2015 were missed despite the availability of viable, effectively tested interventions,” the report said. “NTD programmes continue to struggle with limited financial resources, inadequate capacity including capacity to implement effective surveillance, disruptive conflicts and important barriers to accessing needed health services that range from poverty to stigmatization.”

For more information:

WHO. Integrating Neglected Tropical Diseases in Global Health and Development. 2017. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/255011/1/9789241565448-eng.pdf?ua=1. Accessed April 19, 2017.

Disclosure: Chan reports no relevant financial disclosures.