For those of us fortunate enough to be living in the developed world, the tropics and subtropics may be envisaged as regions of vast expanses of lush, green rainforests, or islands surrounded by crystal clear oceans and overwater bungalows. However, what many of us fail to realise is that a group of 17 bacterial, parasitic protozoal, and viral infections (Bhutta, 2014) thrive in these environments. Specifically, these are:
- Buruli ulcer
- Chagas disease
- Dengue and Chikungunya
- Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease)
- Foodborne trematodiases
- Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness)
- Leprosy (Hansen’s disease)
- Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis)
- Onchocerciasis (river blindness)
- Schistosomiasis (snail fever)
- Soil-transmitted helminthiasis
- Yaws (Endemic treponematoses)
Global distribution of NTDs (Source: CDC, 2011)
The symptoms of each disease may be vastly different to the next (ranging from massive skin ulceration to seizures to irreversible blindness), but in unison, they comprise Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and affect ~1 in 6 people across the globe. This means that over 1 billion people living in poverty suffer from at least one NTD (WHO, 2017). To put that into perspective, it translates to approximately the total number of people who are active on Facebook each day. Imagine if all of these people were affected by NTDs, would they still be “neglected”?
Source: (FNDR, 2014)
NTD’s are the most common diseases of the world’s poorest populations, and cause not only debilitating consequences for the suffering individuals but contribute to social stigma, perpetuate cycles of poverty and give rise to a massive global health burden. The estimated number of deaths attributed to NTDs is up to 534 000 every year (Olatunwa, 2014). However, as a group of low-mortality, high-morbidity diseases, the majority of the adverse global health impact is associated with the chronic, disabling features of NTDs. In order to gain an appreciation of this impact, we must consider it in terms of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), to account for the number of healthy life-years lost due to premature death or disability (Hotez, 2011). The number of DALYs attributed to NTDs has been estimated to lie between 20 million, which would place them amongst the top 20 leading causes of disease burden, and 57 million (Hotez, 2011) which would place them amongst the top 3 leading causes of disease burden in low-income countries (WHO, 2004). This translates to decreased productivity, and thus extreme economic burdens. For example, Leishmaniasis results in approximately USD $1.3 billion per year lost in productivity, and the loss in productivity attributed to trachoma alone is estimated at USD $2.9 billion per year (Bhutta, 2014).
The development of “rapid impact packages” has enabled just $0.50 USD to treat and protect a person (Hotez, 2011) against seven of the most common NTDs for up to one year. More information on how we can be involved can be found via the END7 campaign. If we- the daily Facebook users- all contributed in this simple, cost effective way, would they still be “neglected”? Or perhaps eradicated?