Information and news about disease category

How Neglected Tropical Diseases Contribute to PovertyProminent diseases that affect developing countries receive little donor funding due to their lack of presence in more developed nations. As a result, over one billion people living in developing nations become infected by diseases. However, the rate of infection is higher in developing, tropical countries. Neglected tropical diseases are caused by a variety of viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Neglected Tropical Diseases

Diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis that do not receive adequate attention or funding are known as neglected tropical diseases. According to the World Health Organization, more than two billion people are at risk of such diseases. Lack of treatment for these diseases can result in blindness, developmental disabilities and malnutrition.

Common Neglected Tropical Diseases

  • Dengue fever: This disease is contracted through mosquitos, resulting in serious joint and muscle pain.
  • Ascariasis: As a result of a parasitic worm and unsanitary conditions, this disease usually has mild symptoms. However, with a high amount of worm infestation, the side effects can be more severe. More serious symptoms include abdominal pains, vomiting and even death.
  • Hookworm: This disease is contracted by walking barefoot on soil tainted with a significant amount of feces.
  • Leprosy: This infectious disease can lead to permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.
  • Trachoma: This bacterial disease leads to scarring on the inside of the eyelid that can cause blindness if left untreated.

Neglected tropical diseases flourish in areas with high levels of poverty due to the lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Additionally, the detrimental effects of these diseases create a decline in school enrollment and limit work productivity.

Prevention Methods

The best way to fight neglected tropical diseases is through prevention. Here are some ways to prevent such diseases in developing countries.

  • Improved sanitation: Clean access to water, improved food handling measures and better hygiene can prevent diseases such as guinea worm disease, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis and trachoma.
  • Controlling vectors: Diseases that are spread by hosts can be prevented by managing the vectors. One method is significant insecticide spraying in areas where vectors gather and reproduce, killing bacteria become hosts and carriers.
  • Education programs: Educating people who are more vulnerable to these diseases greatly aids in prevention efforts. Through education programs, at-risk communities can learn how to limit the risk of infection. For example, communities can limit the number of diseases brought by mosquitoes by reducing standing water areas. Furthermore, sleeping under a bed net reduces the risk of contracting diseases carried by flies.

Bringing Awareness

Providing a platform to bring more awareness to neglected tropical diseases is vital in fighting them. The Neglected Tropical Diseases NGO Network, founded in 2009, provides opportunities for different NGOs to work together to find solutions to these diseases. The SCI Foundation, The Partnership for Child Development and Water Aid are just a few NGOs that are a part of the network.

Programs and Forums like The Neglected Tropical Diseases NGO Network play an essential role in gaining the attention and funding required to aid impoverished areas. Working to prevent these diseases also helps to reduce poverty. Millions of people suffer from these debilitating diseases, and spreading awareness is a small thing that can lead to big change.

– Celia Brocker
Photo: Flickr

One Health
For those living in wealthy nations, infectious diseases and foodborne illnesses are typically an inconvenience. Improvements in healthcare technology, including widespread vaccinations for once-deadly diseases, can render events such as the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly rare. However, in low-income nations, this is not the case. Around 420,000 people die each year from foodborne illnesses, most commonly children under 5 years old in Africa and Southeast Asia. Here is some information about the causes of disease outbreaks worldwide and the means of disease prevention that people know as One Health.

The Situation

Infectious disease outbreaks have increased significantly from 1980 and include SARS, H1N1, Ebola, MERS, Zika and COVID-19. Additionally, up to 75% of new infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they begin in animals and transfer to humans. Some animals, such as bats, are resistant to becoming ill and easily spread diseases that lie dormant in their immune systems.

Zoonoses are more and more common as humans become further integrated with the natural world. Reasons for the increase of zoonoses include:

  • Deforestation and Mining: Deforestation and mining destroy habitats and force animal populations closer to civilization. The World Economic Forum estimates that 31% of infectious outbreaks have a link to deforestation.
  • Urbanization: Urbanization can foster the dominance of disease-prone species such as white-footed mice.
  • Factory Farming: Factory farming harbors large populations of genetically similar animals in unsanitary conditions that are susceptible to disease outbreaks.
  • Wet Markets: Wet market merchants often bring exotic species out of their habitats and near humans.
  • Tourism of Wildlife: Tourism of wildlife, such as caves that contain bats, risks spreading diseases to humans.
  • Bacterial Infections and Antibiotics: While bacterial infections currently pose a minor threat due to the widespread availability of antibiotics, experts warn that modern animal agriculture practices, where farmers give antibiotics to livestock in large doses, are rapidly breeding strains of bacterial diseases resistant to antibiotics. Many of these strains are beginning to pose a threat in medical treatment practices.

One Health

Between foodborne illnesses, antibiotic resistance and zoonotic diseases, it is clear that the well-being of animals closely ties with the well-being of humans. This perspective of disease prevention is known as One Health. The One Health model necessitates considering major environmental and agricultural policy shifts, but people are already taking small steps to directly reduce disease transmission. Health agencies around the world are holding conferences to prioritize zoonotic disease prevention and conducting investigations into the origins of outbreaks.

In Thailand, a team of software developers launched a movement to monitor animal illnesses and contain possible outbreaks of zoonoses. Since 75% of rural Thai households have backyard animals, disease transfer is a major concern. The project, called Participatory One Health Disease Detection, consists of 3,000 volunteers using a smartphone app to report information about sick and dead animals to the project developers, who are veterinarians at Chiang Mai University. The developers are able to detect, investigate and quarantine potential outbreak risks. According to the Gates Foundation, an infectious disease could spread to every global capital in just 60 days, so detecting an outbreak early could save thousands of lives.

Keeping the human population safe from deadly diseases means acknowledging the connections between civilization and animal habitats, especially in high-poverty areas where habitat destruction from resource extraction such as deforestation and mining means that line increasingly blurs. The One Health model sets short-term and long-term goals for monitoring and restoring the health and safety of animals and the natural world.

– Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

Hemophilia in Kenya
Around 5,000 Kenyans suffer from a blood disorder called hemophilia. Hemophilia prevents blood clots from forming after a wound and results in continuous bleeding. Many Kenyans with this disorder often pass away due to the inability to pay for treatment. Also, stigma from local communities makes individuals believe that hemophilia comes from witchcraft and it prevents affected Kenyans from finding traditional Western medicine. The World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH) Humanitarian Aid Program, Muranga Hospital and Save One Life offer free medical treatment to low-income patients, give grants to fund small businesses, host gatherings to encourage peer support and provide education and awareness about hemophilia in Kenya.

The World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH) Humanitarian Aid Program

WFH started helping out in Kenya in 2015 and strives to provide medical treatment to lower-income individuals with hemophilia. Since arriving in Kenya, the program donated more than 17 million international units of factor to Kenyans. This treatment allows patients with acute bleeding to find temporary relief.

With the consistent flow of clotting factor coming into Kenya, young children qualify for prophylactic treatment. WFH offers prophylactic treatment to children with hemophilia to reduce the risk of bleeding and joint damage in the future. Children who were on the verge of dropping out of school due to their disorder continued with their education after receiving treatment.

Muranga Hospital

Located in central Kenya, the Muranga Hospital dedicated a special clinic to treat patients with hemophilia in Kenya. Before the construction of this clinic, affected Kenyans traveled for 2 hours to receive treatment in Nairobi and spent a significant portion of their income on travel expenses.

The clinic in the Muranga Hospital offers vials of clotting factor to stop acute bleeding. Medical professionals dispatch factor to the homes of patients who desperately need treatment. When the factor arrives, patients call the clinic and nurses teach the individuals how to properly inject themselves.

Since the clinic is located in a rural area with minimal education about blood disorders, the local community strongly believes that hemophilia comes from witchcraft. This false belief prevents affected individuals from seeking proper medical treatment. Health professionals from the clinic attempt to combat this myth by going out into the community and educating the public about hemophilia.

Save One Life

Save One Life came into existence in 2000 and aims to alleviate the financial burden of families in developing countries that hemophilia affects. More specifically, the organization helps patients by offering grants and emotional support.

Save One Life gives out grants of around $800 to low-income Kenyans with hemophilia to spend it on their small businesses. The grant helps patients to expand their business and earn extra money to pay for their medical treatments. Grants funded a range of businesses, from ridesharing services to dairy farming.

Also, the organization hosts gatherings for women with children that suffer from hemophilia. In a meeting of almost 50 women, they discussed their experiences dealing with the stigma of hemophilia and the difficulties of raising children without help from their husbands. The meetings allowed women to exchange advice and offer emotional support to each other.

With the help of nonprofit organizations and rural clinics, low-income individuals who experience hemophilia obtained medical treatments and lived more substantial lives. Raising awareness and educating the public about hemophilia in Kenya allows affected individuals to not feel ashamed about their diagnosis and to seek out proper medical care.

– Samantha Rodriguez-Silva
Photo: Flickr

Science Can Help End Global Poverty
Scientists around the world are passionate about making the world a better place. Almost 1 billion people around the world live in severe poverty. Such people lack access to food, clean water and sources of energy. They also lack much-needed medicine and access to healthcare. Advancements in science can help end global poverty.

Starvation and Diseases

Between 25,000 and 40,000 people die each day from causes such as starvation and diseases in impoverished countries, many of which are children. Each year, roughly 6 million children under the age of 5 die unnecessarily simply because they do not have access to clean water, doctors and food.

Science can help end global poverty by implementing more cost-effective strategies when it comes to advancements in testing for diseases. In developing countries, it can be difficult to conduct research for such testing. Chemist George Whiteside from Harvard University experimented with bubble wrap as a means for conducting blood tests. Whiteside found that he could create a sterile container from bubble wrap to test for anemia. More than 33% of the world’s population is anemic and this more affordable advancement could be useful in assisting the detection of the disease in developing countries. If the anemia undergoes detection, then those with it could receive treatment and lead more productive and healthy lives.

Agricultural Methods

Science can help end global poverty by enhancing agricultural methods. One particular issue affecting many developing countries is drought periods. Water conservation and distribution are barriers that science can address in developing countries that lack irrigation. The ratio of water necessary to grow a ton of wheat is 1,200:1 and the rice to water ratio is between 2,000-5,000:1. Satellite imagery can map out underground aquifers to monitor water supplies to help identify areas of the world that stand to benefit from increased water recycling programs.

How Innovations Have Helped End Global Poverty

While work is still necessary, there have been various successes attesting that science can help to this social plight. Malaria deaths reduced by 50% from 2000 to 2014 due to enhancements in testing. The availability of cell phones and wireless internet has assisted farmers with setting prices on their crops in Africa. Science has made advancements in helping developing countries grow healthier bio-fortified foods. Science has helped design stoves that burn cleaner and more available fuel made from animal byproducts. The utilization of these fuels also helps decrease respiratory infections. With proper governance and economic support, science can continue to help end global poverty and provide hope.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began a project called the Global Development Lab in April 2014. Both governmental and non-governmental agencies along with universities began working collaboratively to end global poverty by 2030. Budgeted at $1 billion, USAID works to make progress in areas such as clean water, healthcare, ample and quality food security, schooling and energy accessibility.

Moving Forward So Science Can Help End Global Poverty

For science to make greater strides in assisting those living in extreme poverty policymakers in wealthy countries need to realize the importance of funding to make the necessary advancements. Scientists in the United States spend more than $20 billion per year working to improve biomedicine. To do this globally would be of a much greater cost and securing the support of policymakers pertaining to foreign aid budgets will be necessary to continue advancements.

–  Carolyn Lyrenmann
Photo: Flickr

The Wellcome Trust Fights Infectious Diseases
Amongst many others, three prevalent issues that continue to burden citizens across the world are mental health problems, weather changes and infectious diseases. Thankfully, organizations such as the Wellcome Trust specialize in these areas and hope to alleviate public health issues through research initiatives and partnerships. It incorporates work with businesses, academia, philanthropies, governments and the public to support the role science takes in solving health challenges. Not only does its work advance the study of science and medicine, but it also benefits under-developed countries needing assistance. Here is some information about the ways the Wellcome Trust fights infectious diseases around the world.

About the Wellcome Trust

The founder of the Wellcome Trust is Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome, a former philanthropist, and pharmacist who worked tirelessly to advance medical research. Born in 1853, Sir Henry Wellcome had an interest in pharmaceuticals and other cultures from an early age. After studying pharmacy and becoming a traveling pharmaceutical salesman, Wellcome formed Burroughs Wellcome & Co. in 1880 and worked to register a new form of tablets that were safer than traditional pills. He went on to profit handsomely from this company and used his wealth to fund many different scientific research laboratories, as well as collect different historical objects and books relating to medicine. Toward the end of his life, Sir Henry Wellcome formed the Wellcome Trust. This organization emerged to benefit those hoping to further biomedical research by providing funding. Today, the Wellcome Trust serves as the second-largest medical research charity in the world.

The Wellcome Trust strategizes to make improvements in public health by supporting various research programs. Wellcome works to advance research in the biomedical science sphere in hopes of bettering the understanding of health and disease. Its areas of scientific research include:

  • Genetics, Genomics and Molecular Biology
  • Infectious Disease and the Immune System
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Physiology and Non-communicable Disease
  • Neuroscience and Mental Health

The Wellcome Fund’s Research Grants

The trust provides research grants to scientists, artists, educators and innovators in 70 countries. Many major collaborations have resulted from Wellcome-funded or co-funded research initiatives, such as the Cancer Genome Project and the Ebola Emergency Initiative. The trust provides funding schemes for potential grantees looking to increase research in biomedical science, population health, product development and applied research, humanities and social sciences, or public engagement and creative industries. In 2016, the Wellcome Trust received the title of the largest philanthropic funding of health research and others noted it for its people-focused funding.

The Wellcome Fund’s Initiatives in Africa and Asia

Wellcome’s work in Africa and Asia has resulted in significant impacts for those regions, such as recognizing treatments for infectious diseases and implementing programs that benefit African-led initiatives.

It has administered numerous programs in Africa and Asia, such as the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) in partnership with the Kenya Medical Research Institute, as well as The Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI). Both of these programs take a special interest in researching to understand the diseases that cause high mortality rates in their regions and use this information to improve public health in their area. The ability to understand the health of a population enables the use of intervention to improve the overall quality of life in that area. One significant impact that has resulted from this focus on Africa and Asia is the discovery of a more effective treatment for severe malaria, which went on to become the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global policy recommendation. Additionally, The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) emerged.

This organization fosters scientific excellence through mentoring upcoming research leaders and translating research into products and policies that improve the lives of people in Africa. With innovators in Africa leading it, the organization hopes to transform health research on the African continent to benefit citizens.

Distribution of Vaccines

The Wellcome Trust fights infectious diseases through the advancement of vaccines and helping distribute them to under-developed countries, which benefits impoverished citizens in more ways than one. About 2 million deaths each year are due to inadequate access to vaccines in low and middle-class countries. In impoverished countries that possess weak health care systems, easily preventable and treatment illnesses can run rampant and result in the death of children and already ill individuals. Many of these struggling nations also lack strong, well-established governments that can provide resources to help their citizens. This is why Wellcome supports the development of new and improved vaccines and hopes to enable vaccines that already exist for use in a broader context.

The Wellcome Trust understands that low and middle-income countries with high rates of infectious disease need to create their own immunization policies based on research evidence and prioritize cost-effectiveness. Therefore, it works with predominant organizations, such as Gavi, to fund and share relevant research with these areas to help them with their decision-making. Vaccines hold the potential to not only prevent sickness and death in impoverished nations but can also bolster education and economic development in struggling areas.

Ultimately, Wellcome uses its renowned research grant programs to cultivate discoveries involving global public health. Its initiatives reach across the entire world and result in new research that forces scientists to re-evaluate how to approach medicine and infectious diseases. Its discoveries also benefit struggling nations, such as areas in Africa and Asia, that greatly need invention to help their communities. The Wellcome Trust fights infectious diseases by helping the world gain a better understanding of science and supported some of the brightest minds in the scientific field to uncover improvements in public health.

– Hope Shourd
Photo: Flickr

Sickle Cell Anemia in Sub-Saharan AfricaThere are a total of 46 countries that compose sub-Saharan Africa. These countries account for 75% of the total cases of sickle cell anemia. Due to the high concentration of this disease in one area of the globe, high rates of early mortality have devastated sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers estimate that 50-90% of infants born with the disorder will die by the age of 5. In response, methodologies have been developed in hopes of eradicating sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Early Screening

It is crucial to provide screening for newborns in order to diagnose children with sickle cell anemia as early as possible. Early detection of the disease is proven to increase survival rates. In under-resourced communities, many children have died without ever being diagnosed. Early detection allows for the initiation of treatments, therapies, physician follow-ups and medical attention. Previously, diagnoses of patients happened through isoelectric focusing and liquid chromatography, but they have shown to be inaccurate and expensive. Now, there are “point-of-care” diagnostic methods available that are affordable and provide accurate results.

Vaccinations

A consequence of sickle cell disease (SCD) is an exponential increase in the transmission of bacterial infections. The main vaccination that has resulted in improvement for patients with sickle cell disease is penicillin prophylaxis. With the increased availability of penicillin and medical monitoring, mortality rates for patients with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa will significantly decrease.

Treatment Therapies

Once diagnosed, there are numerous preventive and therapeutic measurements that can alleviate the symptoms of SCD. Data collected through years of research have proven that hydroxyurea is the most effective therapy for patients with SCD. In addition, proper hydration and nutritious supplements are key to curing non-critical patients. The most critical patients receive blood transfusions. Lastly, stem cell transplantations provide great improvements in SCD patients; however, its high cost often prevents utilization of this method.

Health Education

A simple method to increase the life expectancy of SCD patients is to provide accurate and useful information about the disease. Parents well-informed on this condition can properly identify symptoms their children display and can seek immediate medical attention. This leads to early detection so their child can receive necessary medications, therapies, vaccinations and treatments.

Global Advocacy

In recent years, more institutions have recognized the prevalence of sickle cell anemia in African and have shifted their focus to aiding those countries. The U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Gates Foundation created joint efforts in order to cultivate gene-based cures for both sickle cell disease and HIV.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and American Society of Hematology announced one of their priorities is to support the impoverished, disadvantaged countries across Africa in regard to sickle cell anemia. Also, the NHLBI Small Business Innovation research grant allowed for the utilization of the affordable, precise “point-of-care” diagnostic methods for SCD patients. Further advocacy for underprivileged, poor families is necessary to continue the fight in reducing sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite its challenges, Africa has made major strides in improving sickle cell anemia in the last forty years. Continuing to utilize these methods would not only save vulnerable children, but their economy would flourish as well. A higher life expectancy has a direct correlation with an increase in projected lifetime incomes. This would result in more people contributing to their country’s economy and mobilizing their personal socioeconomic statuses. It is vital to take the above approaches to support patients with sickle cell anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

5 Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders Diagnosed in South AfricaFor the past few years, rheumatology has improved in South Africa, populated with more than 1.2 billion people. However, there is still a lack of resources needed for appropriate education, testing and diagnosis to improve rheumatology patients’ quality of health care. This piece will explain five rheumatic diseases and disorders that have been regularly diagnosed in South Africa. The difference between a disease and a disorder is that a disorder disrupts regular bodily activity and functions while the disease has specific symptoms and causes. Despite the number of rheumatic care providers, rheumatic diseases and disorders continue to be diagnosed in South Africa.

5 Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders in South Africa

  1. Sjogren’s Syndrome: Sjogren’s Syndrome is a rare and often forgotten autoimmune rheumatic disorder. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects one’s salivary glands. An autoimmune disease is a disease where the body’s immune system attacks its healthy functioning cells. The main symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome are dry eyes and mouth. In general, women are more likely to present symptoms, although males can be diagnosed with the syndrome. The disorder is typically diagnosed in those who are older than 40. Treatment and medical advice for Sjogren’s Syndrome can be found in South Africa. There are practices like Dr. Ajesh Maharaj’s Rheumatology; however, treatment is based on the service required in terms of the patient’s length of service and condition, which may or may not increase the amount of money that will be charged for their use.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis: There are six forms of arthritis, and roughly 50% of people can be living with it and have no idea. From the six forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is most common. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease, commonly known for affecting the body’s joints and causing inflammation. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be diagnosed at any age and include symptoms such as weight loss, fever, pain in joints, fatigue, and weakness. The percentage of people with rheumatoid arthritis is 2.5% in South Africa’s urban settings and 0.07% in its rural settings.
  3. Scleroderma: Scleroderma affects women three to four times more than men. The disease is diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 50, and it makes the skin and tissues harden. Scleroderma is treated in South Africa in different hospitals such as Life Healthy Care Hospital Group, Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital and Life Kingsbury Hospital.
  4. Lupus: Lupus is an autoimmune disease that currently has no cure. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with Lupus than men. Like many other rheumatic diseases and disorders, Lupus goes undiagnosed in South Africa because of the lack of awareness and resources people are given. When there is no education on a disease or disorder, it goes overlooked and frequently misdiagnosed.
  5.  Gout: Gout is a form of arthritis that is less common in African countries because it often goes underreported. Common symptoms of gout include severe pain, redness and tenderness in joints. Pain can occur randomly and can be helped with anti-inflammatory medications. Patients are usually recommended by a health professional to transition to a healthier lifestyle that includes exercise and a diet that includes more vegetables and water. Males are more likely to be diagnosed with gout than women. People who are at high risk may have a higher intake of alcohol or are obese.

Poverty and Accessing Treatment

Accessing medical care is difficult, especially for those who are suffering from extreme poverty. In 2015, 18.8% of South Africans were living in poverty. The poverty rate between 2011 and 2015 increased by 2%. Efficient healthcare prominently available in private hospitals in South Africa; however, there are also public hospitals that treat patients. Yet, public hospitals are reported to suffer from long waiting lines and a shortage of staff.

More than 57 million people live in South Africa. Still, the region reports having only 85 adult and pediatric rheumatologists that treat rheumatic diseases and disorders. According to disease specialists, there should be a rheumatologist specialist for every 180,000 people, making the lack of medical care for rheumatology in South Africa clear. The shortage of rheumatologists is addressed by organizations such as the South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association.

Organizations Helping Aid South Africa’s Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders

The South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association (SARAA) is an organization that consists of medical professionals who are knowledgeable in the rheumatology department. The nonprofit organization of medical professionals represents South Africa’s rheumatology and brings awareness to the rheumatology field. They encourage other medical professionals to become members and believe in promoting their IDEAL vision: inclusiveness, dynamic, excellence, advancement and action and leaders.

The African League Against Rheumatism (AFLAR) is an international organization that promotes rheumatology in Africa, rheumatology education and its practice in Africa. It was established in 1989 and continues to work on educating medical employees and African citizens about rheumatic diseases and disorders in Africa.

Rheumatic diseases, such as lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and scleroderma, are diseases. or disorders that affect people worldwide, including South Africa. Suppose rheumatologists in South Africa are given support in bringing awareness to the different health conditions and given more medical resources. In that case, South Africa’s rheumatology department can progress, meaning earlier detection and more knowledge on diseases and disorders.

—Amanda Cruz
Photo: Flickr 

Guinea Worm Disease
“[I want the] last guinea worm to die before I do.” Jimmy Carter may soon get his wish. The former President of the United States has spent the last 30+ years on a number of humanitarian missions through his namesake nonprofit—The Carter Center—but people may undoubtedly see one particular mission as ranking among its magna opera. That mission is to eradicate Guinea worm disease (GWD), and frankly, those worms are unpleasant at best.

What is Guinea Worm Disease?

GWD is a parasitic infection in which extremely small worms enter the human body through contaminated water, leading to crippling, painful blisters about a year later when the matured female worm emerges. It has been infecting people since ancient times, and in the mid-1980s, an estimated 3.5 million cases existed across at least 20 countries, including 17 in Africa. In 2019, however, there were only 54 cases in humans.

Success in Reducing GWD

This is thanks largely to the efforts of The Carter Center, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. This partnership has been leading the charge against the disease both in introducing preventative measures in hotspots on the ground in Africa and by raising awareness in the developed world since 1986. Since no vaccine or other modern treatment exists for Guinea worm disease, The Carter Center’s strategies most often include working with health ministries and community-based volunteer groups in order to stop the spread of GWD and bring attention to it via health education.

The attention is important because of the rapid ability of the disease to spread. One missed case can lead to 80+ new infections over one year and delay a country’s ability to control the disease for just as long. This is partly why the WHO has strict criteria when assessing the disease in a given area.

When Can One Consider a Country Free of GWD?

A country must have zero new cases for at least three years for it to receive a declaration of being free of GWD. Despite the rigorous criteria, some countries continue to encounter problems confronting the disease. Chad, for example, has reported almost 2,000 infections in dogs in 2019—a testament to the disease’s stealth and endurance over the years.

In fact, “years” may be an understatement—GWD has emerged in Medieval Middle Eastern and Ancient Egyptian texts under a variety of labels, with some Egyptian mummies even showing evidence of the worm’s presence in their remains. The Old Testament even refers to it as a ‘fiery serpent’ (citing the on-fire feeling when the creature emerges through the skin).

The Correlation Between GWD and Sanitation

In more recent years, the disease received highlight in the early ‘80s as an international threat to clean water—which is where the fight to eliminate the disease originated. Even today, GWD exists primarily in countries—notably Chad and Ethiopia—that consistently rank among the poorest in the world (and are thus most lacking in access to clean water).

The Carter Center has sought to combat this shortfall as well, specifically by introducing a straw-like pipe filter that allows people in affected countries to drink from any water source without fear of contamination.

The eradication of the disease would mean the end of widespread, debilitating illness across several predominantly African nations. Although the fight has gone on for decades, the organizations working to eliminate it now say that the end is in sight. Even Jimmy Carter made his wish—that GWD would go before him—as he was battling cancer a few years ago.

Now, the eradication of all diseases of this sort will be the target of the U.S.’s End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which entered into law earlier in 2020. The goal of the act is to facilitate and coordinate an effective, research-based international effort to end neglected tropical diseases, such as GWD, with special emphasis on impoverished nations.

If the world meets international goals, GWD would become the second human disease (behind smallpox) and the first parasitic disease to experience eradication. It would also be the first disease to disappear without the use of a vaccine or medicine.

– Bardia Memar
Photo: Flickr

Kala Azar DiseaseKala Azar, the second-largest parasitic killer in the world after malaria, is quite deadly. Known as Kala Azar, Black Fever and visceral leishmaniasis, the disease kills 95% of its victims if left untreated. This “Poor Man’s Disease” can be very hypocritical. While this disease infects the poverty-stricken, the treatment is hard to come by, if not impossible. Even if the patient finds a doctor that can treat the disease, the price is astronomical. And sometimes, there is no stopping the contraction of the Black Fever.

The Spread

As the disease transmits through a sandfly bite, Kala Azar preys on the vulnerable. More than 1 billion people are at risk. East Africa, India and even some parts of the Middle East are endemic to Kala Azar. Poor housing conditions and lack of waste management in these countries cause an increase in the bloodthirsty sandflies’ breeding sites. This specific culprit is the female, Phlebotomine sand fly. While just one bite from it can put someone on bed rest for weeks, malnutrition only worsens the situation. For example, low vitamin D, iron and zinc can cause an infection to progress into disease much quicker. If Kala Azar killed the equivalent number of people in the U.S., it would be the third-largest killer, killing more citizens than those who die from strokes.

OneWorld Health

The real fighting began in 2003 with a collaboration between OneWorld Health, the WHO and a 4.2 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With this grant and WHO’s resources, OneWorld Health was able to start its final testing to find an affordable cure for Kala Azar and the disease it causes. They are reinventing an old medicine and turning it into the treatment now called paromomycin. “It’s not every day one can say an affordable cure for a deadly disease may be imminent and we believe our approach will be successful,” said Dr. Victoria Hale, founder and CEO of OneWorld Health. It is to be a 21-day treatment and it will be readily available in every Indian clinic and, hopefully, one day, everywhere.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi)

Unfortunately, nothing came of the OneWorld Health drug, paromomycin until February 2019. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is fighting to change that. In a press release on the DNDi website, they share that Wellcome, a U.K. based foundation aiming to improve health for everyone, committed 12.9 million dollars for the development of drugs for Kala Azar. They are essentially funding a program that will test pre-existing drugs (that never made it to the world) and choose one to put on the market. DNDi is hoping it to be an oral drug as the drugs taken to fight Kala Azar can be painful and “require patients to take toxic and poorly tolerated drugs — often over a long period and through painful injections,” as said by Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi.

The Impact

There is an estimated 50,000 to 90,000 new cases each year. Most families of the infected do not even go to the doctor, knowing that they will not be able to pay for the treatment. While there are many organizations funding drugs to treat Kala Azar, the cure is not coming fast enough. The current treatment for this parasitic disease is not reasonable. How can a family that can barely provide for themselves spend thousands of dollars on treatment?

The prevention and an end to Kala Azar lie in our hands. Organizations need funding to take preventative measures like spraying for these deadly sand flies, monitoring the epidemics and educating the communities affected by the disease.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NASA SatellitesIn 1999, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists theorized that in the near future, they would be able to track disease outbreaks from space. They were mainly concerned with Rift Valley Fever. This is a disease prevalent in East Africa that is deadly to livestock and occasionally deadly in humans. NASA scientists already had surmised that outbreaks were directly related to El Niño weather events. Areas with more vegetation on abnormally precipitous years breed more disease-carrying mosquitoes. To see the exact areas that would be most at-risk, NASA satellites would need to be able to track differences in the color and density of vegetation from year to year.

Tracking Rift Valley Fever

In 2006, NASA scientists were able to predict and track an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in East Africa. Even with intervention efforts, the outbreak led to the deaths of over 500 people and cost the regional economy over $60 million due to export restrictions and livestock deaths. Although the researchers could not adequately predict the outbreak then, the results of that mission gave them confidence that they could predict the next outbreak even better the next time El Niño conditions arose.

Ten years later, the NASA team successfully predicted the location of the next potential outbreak. They subsequently warned the Kenyan government before the disease could strike and gave them ample time to prepare. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Kenyan government and NASA satellites, Kenya saw no outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in 2016. The country protected the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers throughout the country and saved millions of dollars.

The success of the Rift Valley Fever prediction models gave the researchers more confidence in their methods. They believed that NASA satellites could predict and halt all manner of outbreaks. Researchers focus on neglected diseases like cholera. These diseases have connections to environmental conditions that hit developing countries and impoverished people the hardest. Newer satellites add the ability to measure variables like temperature and rainfall. Researchers are able to use it more than just the visual data utilized in the initial Rift Valley Fever predictions, thanks to the improved models.

Tracking Cholera

Cholera infects from 1.4 to 4 million people and kills more than 140,000 each year. There are two distinct forms of cholera: endemic and epidemic. Endemic cholera is present in bodies of water primarily during the dry season. This means communities living along the coasts are typically prepared for an outbreak. Epidemic cholera comes about during weather events like floods and often leaves inland communities unprepared for the disease. Due to its infectiousness and connection to weather events, it is the most promising disease that new scientific models have analyzed.

In 2013, a research team successfully modeled cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh using NASA satellites. The real test of the team’s predictive models would come in 2017, however, when it used the same model in a very different part of the world: Yemen. The model worked nearly perfectly. Researchers predicted exactly where the outbreaks would occur nearly a full month in advance. The fact that the models worked in impoverished and war-torn Yemen is especially notable for those concerned with extreme poverty. It means that the previously expensive and dangerous work of entering countries like Yemen in order to do disease research is no longer necessary. Instead, early warning systems can be implemented. But even if they fail, governments and organizations can send vaccines and medicines to exactly the right locations. Cholera outbreaks and their disproportionate death rates among the global poor will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

Hope for the Future

By halting outbreaks before they begin, international aid dollars can have more efficient use. Prevention is always less expensive than reaction. Information in and of itself is valuable and the more information poverty-fighting organizations have, the better they can spend their dollars to maximize utility and help the most people. As satellite technology advances along with newer predictive models, preventing disease outbreaks could save developing economies and aid organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Pixabay