Reversing the World’s Neglect of Easily Cured Tropical Diseases
We have the capacity, and the duty, to eliminate neglected tropical diseases (a leading cause of preventable global disease and poverty). An audacious elimination campaign could be implemented at a surprisingly low cost by global leaders starting this weekend when they meet at the 38th G8 Summit at Camp David. This is an opportunity to help millions of poor people with simple, concrete measures.
The 17 neglected tropical diseases defined by the World Health Organization represent the most common afflictions of the “bottom billion”-the poorest people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These diseases include ancient scourges such as schistosomiasis, hookworm, elephantiasis, river blindness, leprosy, trachoma, and yaws. Each has plagued humankind for centuries and is responsible for massive burdens of chronic malnutrition, inflammation, disfigurement, pain, and stigma. Yet for many people living in G8 countries, which are the world’s eight largest economies, these diseases are rarely, if ever, included in discussions related to global health and development.
Recent information I presented in the journal Vaccine points to these diseases as a key underlying reason why the bottom billion cannot escape the cycle of poverty. For example, chronic hookworm infection and anemia in childhood impairs physical and mental development and as a result, reduces future wage earning by almost one-half. Elephantiasis renders subsistence farmers too ill to go to work, causing a billion dollars in lost productivity in India alone. Schistosomiasis produces ulcers in the genital tracts of African girls and women that result in horrific pain, bleeding, depression and a three- to four-fold increase in their risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS.