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Ambitious roadmap aims to eradicate neglected tropical diseases by 2030

Dark-field light micrograph of whipworms (Trichuris trichiura). Credit: Keystone

The World Health Organization (WHO) last week launched a 10-year roadmap to prevent, control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2030.

NTDs are a diverse group of 20 communicable diseases, caused by parasites, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. Despite often being preventable NTDs such as trachoma, a bacterial infection that affects the eyes, or soil-transmitted helminthiases, common infections caused by parasitic worms, can have debilitating and sometimes fatal consequences.

In a statement, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus vowed to “end the scourge of neglected tropical diseases,” which affects around 1.7 billion mostly poor people worldwide.

“Their impact is felt more often than not by the very people who are least equipped to bear the burden of suffering and disability, not to mention the profound social and economic burdens of disease” explains Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, Director, WHO department of control of NTDs.

The new roadmap was agreed at the 73rd World Health Assembly in November and replaces the previous roadmap, which was published in 2012 and ended last year. The WHO said that although “substantial progress” has been made, not all the 2020 targets have been met and that the new plans shows where “critical gaps” and actions need to be taken to reach the 2030 targets. These include:

  • Reducing the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs by 90 per cent.

  • Eliminating at least one NTD in 100 countries.

  • Eradicating two diseases: dracunculiasis, commonly known as Guinea-worm disease; and yaws, a chronic skin disease that primarily affects children under 15 years of age.

  • Reducing disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), the number of years lost due to ill health or disability, related to NTDs by 75 per cent.

The road map also lists 10 targets aligned with the sustainable development goals designed to address gaps across multiple diseases by integrating the approaches within national health systems.

"At its core, this road map aims to put people first. It involves working across sectors in delivering programmes for all the 20 NTDs and promoting equity and country ownership" said Malecela. "To do so programmes have to be sustainable with measurable outcomes, backed by adequate domestic financing.”

Since the launch of the 2012 London Declaration where governments, research institutes and pharmaceutical companies pledged to work together to control and eliminate at least 10 NTDs, around 500 million fewer people are at risk and 42 countries have eliminated at least one NTD, the WHO said.

This trajectory to end NTDs is promising but to do so “we need to do things differently” Ghebreyesus continued. “This means injecting new energy into our efforts and working together in new ways to get prevention and treatment for all these diseases, to everyone who needs it.”