Information and news about disease category

Rare Diseases in South AfricaThe European Union states that a condition is considered rare when it affects fewer than one person out of every 2000. Rare Diseases South Africa (RDSA) estimates that medical conditions affect 3.6 million individuals in South Africa.

According to Rare Diseases SA, most rare diseases are believed to be caused by factors explicitly in genes or chromosomes like Huntington’s disease. However, it’s important to note that not all rare diseases are inherited. Some can be attributed to infections, chronic liver conditions (such as African iron overload), rare types of cancers (like pancreatic cancer) and even autoimmune disorders (such as hemolytic anemia). According to Rare Diseases SA, the lack of a definition for rare diseases in South Africa is a significant issue that the government needs to address.

Rare Diseases Challenges in South Africa’s Health Care System

It is concerning that many hospitals in the country do not keep records of diagnoses, which poses a challenge for researchers. This problem is compounded by the limited funding to researchers in South Africa compared to developed countries. 

Rare Diseases SA reported that despite spending 8.5% of GDP on health care, South Africa’s health outcomes are among the poorest globally. According to World Bank, while South Africa has seen some improvements in poverty reduction since 1994, around 55.5% (equivalent to 30.3 million individuals) of the population still find themselves living below the upper poverty line, which is approximately ZAR 992. Additionally, a significant number of people, totaling around 13.8 million individuals (25%), face food poverty. There is a shortage of expertise in both the private sectors to identify and diagnose rare diseases in South Africa.

Additionally, the exorbitant cost of medications used to treat these diseases often makes them inaccessible.

According to Jacobson, rare diseases pose a challenge for health care practitioners who often lack the awareness and expertise for diagnosis, timely referral and appropriate management due to their rarity. As a result, patients may go undiagnosed, be misdiagnosed or experience delays in receiving a diagnosis. This lack impacts not only their health but also their socioeconomic status, family life, educational and employment opportunities and overall participation in society. The consequences of this can create a cycle of vulnerability and poverty. 

Even when rare diseases are correctly identified, individuals with conditions face obstacles in accessing necessary treatment and health care services. In South Africa, diseases are not considered within health care planning and policy-making processes. Additionally, patients often encounter neglect or dismissal from health care funders, further delaying treatment and denying their access to health care altogether. 

Rare Diseases South Africa (RDSA) and Advocacy

Established in 2013, Rare Diseases South Africa (RDSA) is a for-profit organization that advocates for individuals affected by rare diseases and congenital disorders. Their mission is to ensure these individuals receive recognition, support, improved health care services and a better quality of life. Over the years, RDSA has successfully implemented initiatives that have impacted the lives of more than 1,800 patients. It has actively engaged with departments, state organizations, industry leaders and other key stakeholders to raise awareness about diseases and advance policies related to them. 

Today, RDSA combines standards and local medical breakthroughs working together to advocate for marginalized communities and connect them with advancements in health care. 

  1. Advocate: Publicly recommend or support by representing patients affected by rare diseases.
  2. Navigate: Ensure that patients with diseases and congenital disorders have a well-supported journey from the moment they start experiencing symptoms until the end of their lives.
  3. Engage: Work with society and the small community to establish awareness and networking opportunities for rare diseases and congenital disorders in South Africa.
  4. Research: Rare Research is dedicated to addressing matters that revolve around the needs of patients in both global communities affected by rare diseases and congenital disorders.

Looking Ahead

Although rare diseases are a significant problem in South Africa, it is good to know efforts are underway to mitigate them and provide treatment. Through their continued work, hopefully, rare diseases will be eliminated.

Aysu Usubova
Photo: Flickr

Diseases Impacting the PhilippinesThe Philippines, a country celebrated for its rich culture and scenic beauty, grapples with various health challenges. The country contends with infectious diseases, a shortage of health care services and illnesses linked to the environment. Recognizing these issues, the government has initiated measures to enhance health care infrastructure and tackle critical public health concerns, aiming to effectively address the health issues affecting the Filipino population.

The Philippine’s Health Care System

The Philippines employs a health care system that blends both public and private services. The national health insurance program, known as the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), strives to ensure equitable access to quality health care for all citizens. Despite progress toward health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the emergence of chronic diseases poses a new challenge, particularly in impoverished communities.

The health care system has great hospitals and capable medical providers who are unable to account for the large marginalized populations suffering from diseases impacting the Philippines. Made up of more than 7,500 islands and 20,000 miles of coastline, the Philippines has many remote communities whose medical infrastructure and resources are not adequate. This leads to an uneven distribution of health care resources between urban and rural areas, limited financing and a shortage of health care professionals.

Prominent Statistics

Vaccine-preventable diseases are increasing in the Philippines, “potentially reversing the positive results of decades of successful immunization campaigns.” Since 2019, the country has reported outbreaks of polio, measles, respiratory infections and waterborne diseases. In August 2019, the Department of Health declared a national epidemic due to a dengue outbreak. In November 2019, the Philippines faced significant health challenges. Dengue cases surpassed 370,000, resulting in 1,407 deaths. Additionally, 197 cases of diphtheria led to 47 deaths in October. Measles affected over 42,200 people, causing 560 deaths due to complications. The country, polio-free for 19 years, reported four cases caused by vaccine-derived poliovirus. These outbreaks persist due to low population immunity. It highlights the importance of vaccination to safeguard public health and prevent the re-emergence of previously controlled diseases.

Efforts by NGOs and the Government of Philippines

Thankfully, the World Health Organization’s Immunization Agenda of 2030 aims to make vaccinations available globally by 2030. On June 2, 2021, the Department of Health declared the polio outbreak non-urgent after years of “comprehensive outbreak response actions, including intensified immunization and surveillance activities” in remote areas. The Yale Institute for Global Health, UNICEF and Meta developed five graphic campaigns, four in Filipino and one in English, targeting people aged 18-55 years in the Philippines in order to increase awareness of routine vaccination and routine immunization for children.

Non-communicable diseases impacting the Philippines (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and Ischemic heart disease are also on the rise, “often linked to lifestyle factors such as diet and lack of physical activity.” Furthermore, there has been a recent spike in diseases such as dengue, diphtheria and malaria.

The Government of the Philippines is reducing NCD rates by implementing a multisectoral Strategic Action Plan for NCD prevention and control (2017-2025), a Plan of Action for Nutrition (2017-2022), various tobacco control policies, tobacco and alcohol taxation, parameters for labeling pre-packaged food and the universal health care (UHC) law. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for a one-third reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2030; investing in NCD solutions will reduce approximately 350,000 premature deaths over the next 15 years.

Other Ongoing Efforts

  • Disease Prevention and Control: There are efforts in place to control infectious diseases, such as public health campaigns and strengthening disease surveillance systems.
  • Health Infrastructure Development: The government has invested in upgrading hospitals and health equipment, especially in rural areas.
  • Community Health Programs: Health care workers directly communicate with the public by educating them on how to avoid sickness and how to address it.
  • Mental Health Awareness and Services: There is a new focus on psychological services and promoting mental health awareness.
  • Immunization Programs: WHO is offering vaccination programs and has made progress in expanding immunization coverage to protect children from preventable diseases such as measles, polio and hepatitis.

Looking Ahead

Exploring the health challenges in the Philippines could enhance awareness and support the ongoing conversation about public health in the nation. Although the government has made notable progress in tackling public health issues, ongoing trends draw attention to a continuous requirement for collaborative actions from broader stakeholders. This could involve cultivating a global commitment to public health and fostering a united effort to address health concerns.

– Samantha J. Rentfro
Photo: Flickr

The Disease That Should Not ExistDoctors Without Borders estimates that noma affects 140,000 children each year. Without treatment, 90% of victims die within the first two weeks. The disease is rapid and painful, and it leaves those who survive with traumatic and often life-impacting injuries. It is also easily preventable and treatable. Here is everything to know about noma, the disease that should not exist.

What is Noma?

Noma, also known as gangrenous stomatitis, is a rapidly progressive bacterial disease that affects the mouth, nose and lips. It is most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa and mainly affects children, with most cases occurring under the age of 10. If detected at an early stage, noma is easily treatable through basic hygiene, antibiotics and nutrition.

The Symptoms

The word noma stems from the Greek word “nomē,” meaning “to devour,” and looking at the disease, it is easy to see why. The disease starts in the mouth, with gingivitis developing in the gums over one to two days. In three to four days, ulcers develop within the mouth, along with swelling in the gums and cheeks. These ulcers spread rapidly and before the end of the week, the disease begins to eat away at the soft tissue within the mouth and cheeks, leading to a hole developing in the face. The infection continues to spread over the following days and gangrene sets in in the affected areas, causing devastating damage to facial tissue and bones. Depending on where the infection began, the jaw, lips, cheeks, nose or eyes are quickly destroyed, leading to severe disfigurement and life-threatening impairments.

The Causes

The exact cause of noma is unknown, but certain factors can influence the development of it within patients.

  • Malnutrition: Malnutrition, particularly severe protein malnutrition, often occurs in the victims of noma.
  • Hygiene: Like most diseases, the chance of noma drastically increases for people who do not have access to clean living conditions and adequate sanitation.
  • Previous illness: The risk of developing noma also increases with the presence of prior diseases that cause immunodeficiency, such as HIV, tuberculosis, measles or scarlet fever. A compromised immune system is a common precursor to developing noma.
  • Living in a developing country: Many of the risks listed above are factors that impact people living in a developing country every day. Add to this the lack of medical infrastructure and treatment available, and the risk of noma developing becomes much more likely.

The Fight Against Noma, a Disease That Should Not Exist

Noma, a disease that should not exist, has left a devastating mark on many children and adults in developing countries, both mentally and physically. There are, however, those out there who are fighting to lessen the impact of the disease. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), supports one of the world’s only dedicated noma hospitals. Based in Sokoto in Northern Nigeria, the hospital is a haven for victims and survivors of noma.

Founded in 2009, the hospital offers four main components of care. They offer intensive care, such as wound treatment, medication and oral hygiene. It also offers continuous care, such as surgical interventions and post-operative care for survivors. Finally, it offers integrated hospital and community-based services that provide support for patients and lessen the stigma that often comes with the facial disfigurements left by the disease. The hospital admitted nearly 500 patients between 2014 and 2019 and continues to help those in need today.

Through continuous efforts, hopefully, noma will disappear completely. Until then, MSF is making a significant difference.

– Jodie Donovan
Photo: Unsplash

Diseases Caused by MalnutritionMalnutrition is a public health problem that can be seen mostly in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. According to the WHO, malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients or impaired nutrient utilization. People all over the world suffer from malnutrition, especially in places where there is war, economic crisis, drought, floods or other manners of human suffering. However, the focus of this article will be the diseases or syndromes that can stem from malnutrition. Malnutrition and disease often go hand in hand. Here are three diseases caused by malnutrition. 


Kwashiorkor is a disease that stems from malnutrition and severe protein deficiency. Kwashiorkor causes fluid retention and swelling, especially in the abdomen. This disease most commonly affects children, especially in developing countries where there is food insecurity and high levels of poverty. 

If left untreated, Kwashiorkor can be fatal. This disease can cause immune system failure, liver failure, growth and development delays in children and can lead to starvation and death. 

Kwashiorkor primarily affects children, especially from ages 3 to 5. This disease is widely spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and is also common in Southeast Asia and Central America. Kwashiorkor affects both girls and boys equally and remains a major threat in food-insecure countries. 


Marasmus is a severe form of malnutrition. While kwashiorkor is a deficiency in protein, marasmus is a deficiency of all the macronutrients in the body. Marasmus causes the wasting of fat and muscle under the skin, making one look depleted and visibly underweight. 

Marasmus can be caused by starvation or not having enough nutrients. The body will start feeding on its own fat and muscle, then begin shutting down some functions to conserve energy. Marasmus causes low heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. This form of malnutrition can be fatal, leading to heart failure. It also compromises the immune system making malnourished people more prone to infection and illnesses. 

It is thought that there are 18 million children living in low or middle-income countries who are suffering from Marasmus. It is more common in developing countries like some areas of Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, people in the nations have poor access to food, making it difficult to get the correct amount of nutrients, which leads to Marasmus.


Rickets is a condition that affects bone development in children. It specifically softens and weakens the bones typically due to an extreme deficiency of calcium and vitamin D. This condition only occurs in growing bones, so it occurs most commonly in infants and young children.

Any child who lacks these vitamins can develop rickets, however, children in areas of low food income may be more affected. Rickets is common in regions of Asia where there is pollution and a lack of sunlight or low intake of meat. Rickets is also common in Africa, partly because people tend to have darker skin, which reduces vitamin D absorption

In severe and untreated cases, the bone becomes more fragile and prone to fractures, and some children may develop heart diseases that can be fatal. 

All in all, malnourishment is a direct cause of 300,000 deaths per year while contributing to 50% of deaths in younger children. It’s thought to be around 852 million people globally that are starving, with the majority (815 million) in undeveloped countries. 

Victims of suffering hunger around the world can be threatened by many different variables. These are just a few examples of syndromes and diseases that can stem from malnutrition.

However, in 2019 a plan to reduce malnutrition in Africa was adopted by WHO. The strategic plan includes specific goals to be met by 2025 and strives to develop evidence-based policies and national capabilities. Priority interventions include enforcing laws and food safety regulations, utilizing financial incentives to promote healthy food selections, and incorporating crucial nutrition acts into systems for delivering health care services to reduce malnutrition and ultimately, reduce diseases caused by malnutrition. 

– Paige Falk
Photo: Flickr

Chronic Diseases in ChiapasHigh rates of soft drink consumption in Mexico contribute to chronic illness in Chiapas state. With Mexico’s Coca-Cola bottling group holding economic sway over the nation’s poorest region, organizations seek alternative means to fight the deteriorating health situation. In an impoverished state with scarce access to clean water, sugary soft drinks with no nutritional value are cheap, readily available and easy to access, Deutsche Welle reported in October 2023. As such, it is no surprise that diabetes is the second-leading cause of death in Chiapas. 

The Situation 

In 2020, the BBC reported that consumption rates of soft drinks in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas were 32 times higher than the world average. This amount equates to over 821 liters per person a year, compared to 100 liters in the neighboring United States and around 25 liters in the rest of the world. In the same year, residents in the highland town of San Cristóbal de las Casas drank more than half a gallon of soda daily.

The Consequences

The consequences of such extensive consumption rates are dire. Health care experts have pointed to sugar consumption as the driving force behind a spike in chronic illness and gastrointestinal (GI) disease. The latter is now one of the leading causes of death in children under 5.

After the COVID-19 outbreak, Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health associated over 40,000 deaths annually as an indirect result of soft drink consumption. Between 2013 and 2016, diabetes-related mortality rates grew by 30%, thought to be killing up to 3,000 Mexican civilians annually. During the pandemic, most deaths among young adults were attributed to diabetes, hypertension or obesity. 

Chronic illness in Chiapas, namely diabetes and hypertension, is a growing concern due to limited and inaccessible health care services. The state sees some of the lowest detection and control rates of these conditions across the country. This year, only 7.7% of diabetes patients have had their glucose control levels monitored, compared to 9.6% nationally. Transport costs, staff shortages and financial challenges could be the underlying cause. 

Coca-Cola vs. Clean Water 

Chronic diseases in Chiapas due to sugary drink consumption is thought to be driven primarily by a “chronic water shortage” in the state. The Los Altos (or highland) region of Chiapas state has experienced an increasing scarcity of potable water, with a drastic reduction in rainfall and poor infrastructure creating obstacles. Traditional “artesian wells” that functioned as a water catchment system are also failing in the region. In Chiapas, about 56% of individuals lack access to basic water services, according to a study by Jannice Alvarado and others, published in 2022.

Authorities permitted a Coca-Cola plant on the outskirts of San Cristóbal to extract over 300,000 gallons of water daily for manufacturing purposes. The factory pays a relatively low rate for this access, amounting to somewhere near 10¢ per 260 gallons. Payments are directed to federal authorities instead of the local government. This fact has limited improvements to local Chiapan infrastructure. 

Despite efforts to tax soft drinks at a federal level in 2014, the countless “points of sale” of Coca-Cola across Chiapas have resulted in a 30% price reduction, often making the drink cheaper than bottled (and safe) water. With 74.6% of Chiapanecos living in poverty today, lower costs justify unhealthier drinking choices.

The Solution

A few organizations are working to reduce and prevent chronic diseases in Chiapas. Between 2006 and 2022, Cantaro Azul, a group dedicated to providing safe water to Chiapan communities, has supplied 600,000 people across 150 towns with potable water and sanitation facilities. They have also provided safe water services across 180 rural schools to improve the 14% of indigenous schools with access to such facilities. In 2015, Cantaro Azul also introduced educational initiatives that promote the consumption of water over soft drinks to prevent chronic illness. 

This year, researchers from Harvard and UCSF, alongside action group Compañeros en Salud, have introduced shared medical appointments (SMAs) to discuss diet changes and nutrition with patients in a collective setting. With only 35% of the Chiapas population completing secondary education, the scheme aims to improve understanding of health and personal well-being. Patients have reacted positively, and many have reduced their sugar intake.

Water Action Hub, an international risk assessment group, warned that water-related disaster management should be a priority in Mexico this year. The nation is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural phenomena that can damage treatment systems and facilities. Yet local and federal authorities must address safe water access and improved infrastructure to reduce chronic shortages before meaningful change can be enacted.

There are also hopes that pledges made by Mexico’s soft drink sector to reduce caloric content by 20% before 2024 will reduce rates of chronic diseases in Chiapas. Locals’ overall health and well-being can improve with a commitment to prompt action to improve safe and affordable water in the state.

– Cara Jenkins
Photo: Flickr

Diseases Impacting BurundiBurundi is a landlocked country bordered by Rwanda (to the north), Tanzania (to the east and southeast) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (to the west). It battles with a vast array of health challenges, with diseases being a significant problem for its people. In the small, landlocked nation, the fight against infectious diseases and non-communicable health threats takes center stage as the government and various organizations relentlessly work to improve the nation’s well-being. Here are the top diseases impacting Burundi.


According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Burundi has been grappling with a significant upsurge in malaria cases in recent years. In 2020 alone, the country reported over 1 million malaria cases, an increase from the 600,000 cases recorded in the previous year. The surge can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including:

  • Recurring malaria outbreaks over the past decade. 
  • The presence of drug-resistant malaria parasites. 
  • Cross-border transmissions from neighboring countries. 
  • Climate change, creating more favorable conditions for mosquito breeding.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that can be deadly, especially for children and pregnant women. The disease is caused by a parasite that is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The government of Burundi is working to control the malaria outbreak. In recent years the government has distributed 6.8 million insecticide-treated bed nets and malaria medication to people in affected areas, alongside efforts to improve drainage and sanitation to reduce mosquito breeding sites.


Burundi is at a crossroads in its fight against HIV/AIDS. While commendable progress has been made in reducing new infections and deaths, with incident rates falling by 88% from 2002 to 2020, the country still faces issues with low rates of HIV testing among adolescents and young adults and alarming rates of mother-to-child transmission.

According to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Burundi has one of the world’s highest rates of mother-to-child HIV transmission, with approximately 50% of new infections in children aged 0–5. This high level of perinatal transmission results from the failure to provide ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) to many pregnant women living with HIV. While investments have undoubtedly propelled Burundi’s progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, persistent hurdles require further concerted action. Several approaches can be taken such as:

  • Raising Awareness: Increasing public awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment is important.
  • Accessible Services: Ensuring equitable access to high-quality testing and treatment services is an important step towards fighting HIV/AIDS.
  • Ending Stigma: Combating the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is crucial for encouraging testing and treatment amongst the youth.

With enough support and collaborative efforts, Burundi can achieve its goal of eradicating the AIDS epidemic. Together we can support the nation’s resolve to overcome the challenges in this ongoing battle. 

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and the Economy

Data acquired from different sources reveal an alarming upward trend in almost all NCDs and their related risk factors across the Burundian population. The global nutrition report shows us that 5.5% of adult men and 5% of adult women were identified as being at high risk for the development of Diabetes and Hypertension, two chronic conditions that carry severe health implications. 

There’s the issue of Type 2 diabetes in Burundi being an economic burden, as it costs each patient $2,621 a year, which is significantly higher than the GDP per capita, which is $221.48.

The prevalence of obesity among younger children aged 5–10 years old is 28%. While both adult men and women are at risk, obesity is increasing sharply among children and adolescents, and cancer is also on the rise, with 7,929 new cancer cases. Urgent action is needed to prevent and manage NCDs with a focus on interventions for children, adolescents and women.

According to the Journal of Public Health in Africa, to address this crisis, preventative and management measures for NCDs would have to be put in place, such as: 

  • Increase awareness of diabetes and hypertension.
  • Provide access to quality health care services, including treatment and monitoring.
  • Support research into new treatment and prevention strategies.

Final Thoughts on Diseases Impacting Burundi

Burundi faces a vast array of health challenges, from infectious diseases to non-communicable health problems. The government, alongside international partners and non-governmental organizations, is dedicated to addressing these issues. While progress is evident, challenges remain, including issues of accessibility, stigma and changes in the economy. The path forward demands continued dedication and collaboration to ensure that Burundi citizens can access quality health care and live healthier lives.

– Laeticia Mbangue
Photo: Flickr

Top Diseases in NepalAs of May 2023, 15.1% of Nepal’s population continues to live below the poverty line — less than $1.90 a day. In 2014, this number stood at 30.1%. Despite these drastic improvements, Nepal’s poorest continue to face significant challenges, as levels of malnutrition and air pollution remain critically high, and standards of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) remain critically low. As a result, communicable, maternal, neonation and nutritional (CMNN) diseases alone continue to cause 21% of deaths in Nepal, despite being largely preventable. Listed below are some of the most prominent diseases in Nepal. 

Top 7 Diseases in Nepal

  • Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) – Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), such as coronary heart disease and strokes, are the leading cause of death in Nepal, with 24% of total deaths being attributed to CVDs alone in 2019. Cardiovascular disease is the general term for conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels. CVDs are the leading cause of death globally.
  • Malaria – Malaria poses a “serious and persistent threat to public health” in much of Southeast Asia, according to the World Health Organization, and it is the region with the second-highest estimated malaria burden globally. While Malaria remains the second-highest leading cause of death in Nepal, between 2015 and 2021, the country has seen a more than 40% reduction in the number of cases recorded, a global target set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The mortality rate from malaria has also decreased drastically between 2009 and 2019, a decrease of almost 82 deaths per 100,000 cases
  • Diarrheal Disease – Often caused by bacteria, diarrheal diseases are particularly common in countries such as Nepal, where there are poor water, sanitation and hygiene standards (also known as WASH) for the majority of the population. While numbers are improving, diarrheal diseases remain the third highest cause of death and remain one of the most prominent diseases in Nepal. 
  • Lower Respiratory Infection – Often used as a synonym for pneumonia, lower respiratory infections are any infections in the lungs or below the voice box. Largely a result of poor levels of WASH and dangerous levels of air pollution in the country’s capital, Kathmandu, currently standing at 4.9 times higher than recommended by WHO, lower respiratory infections are one of the top diseases in Nepal. 
  • HIV/AIDS – Around 30,000 people in Nepal live with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). If left untreated, HIV can develop into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which is often fatal. Since February 2017, the United Nations’ Test and Treat Strategy has aimed to prevent the spread and to administer treatment of HIV and AIDS, with highly positive results. More work, however, needs to be done to ensure the Test and Treat Strategy can be administered effectively and reaches Nepal’s most vulnerable, to ensure that one day it no longer ranks as one of Nepal’s most prominent diseases and leading causes of death
  • Tuberculosis (TB) A serious bacterial infection of the lungs, the prevalence of tuberculosis in Nepal has been on the rise since 2018. Around 117,000 people in Nepal have been diagnosed with TB, and an estimated 69,000 of these developed TB in 2018 alone. WHO surveys estimate that around 40% of people who present with symptoms of tuberculosis do not seek treatment. Malnutrition is one of the main factors leading to the contraction of TB. 
  • Meningitis – A bacterial infection of the lining around the brain and the spinal cord, meningitis is particularly prevalent among Nepal’s youth. 83% of the cases occur among those under 25 years of age, while the highest age-specific attack rate is children under 1 year of age. With a lack of access to public health care services among Nepal’s poorest, the case fatality rate for meningitis in Nepal stands at 11%, making it one of Nepal’s deadliest diseases. 


For each of Nepal’s most prevalent diseases, their fatality levels have decreased substantially over the last 15 years. This is in large part due to the work of NGOs and nonprofit organizations such as USAID and WHO helping to improve levels of malnutrition and standards of WASH. USAID is currently working with the Government of Nepal to improve the country’s public health services, providing critical care to Nepal’s poorest and most vulnerable. Yet communicable and preventable diseases in Nepal continue to be a leading cause of death, and more work needs to be done to ensure these numbers continue to improve. 

– Eleanor Lomas
Photo: Unsplash

Diseases Impacting SyriaSyria, a nation with a rich cultural history tragically torn apart by years of conflict, has faced a complex crisis that extends beyond the frontline. The devastation of war is evident in the physical destruction of cities and the displacement of millions, but what is less often mentioned is the destruction caused by diseases impacting Syria.

The Syrian conflict has caused widespread damage to health care and sanitation facilities as well as the resettlement of 5.7 million people into crowded refugee camps where poverty is rife. The spread of these diseases and poverty goes hand-in-hand for multiple reasons. Firstly, malnutrition associated with poverty compromises the individual’s immune system and can make people more susceptible to disease. Secondly, crowded, unsanitary conditions associated with poverty are ripe for the spread of disease. This, coupled with a lack of access to basic health care, has meant that diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis and leishmaniasis (a parasitic infection that sandflies spread) are common and widespread. The sheer number of recorded cases speaks for itself in terms of just how common these diseases impacting Syria are:

Obstacles to Tackle to Eliminate Diseases Impacting Syria

  1. Extensive Damage to Health Care Infrastructure. Hospitals across the nation have been subject to airstrikes, and medical professionals have fled the country, leaving essential medical supplies in chronic short supply. Syrian and Russian forces deliberately targeted hospitals as a war strategy, and U.S. bombing campaigns dropped 60 bombs per day on Syria and Iraq in 2016, causing severe damage to health care facilities. This kind of breakdown in health care infrastructure disproportionately affects the poor, who are often unable to access or afford even basic health care services. Organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders have provided vital aid since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011 by supporting existing health care facilities and delivering medical equipment. Its efforts have resulted in the treatment of more than 1,017,900 patients in Syria in 2022 alone. The fantastic work by organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, coupled with repairing health care infrastructure, will be a vital step in eliminating the diseases impacting Syria.
  2. Lack of Sanitation. Approximately 35% of Syrians lack access to safe drinking water, putting them at risk of waterborne diseases. The conflict in Syria has forced millions to become internally displaced or seek refuge in neighboring countries. Unsanitary living conditions in refugee camps provide fertile ground for the spread of diseases, as it is nearly impossible to maintain basic hygiene in such conditions. The lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities and proper nutrition exacerbates the vulnerability of displaced populations to these diseases. However, concerted efforts are being made to improve sanitation and malnutrition in Syria. During the first half of 2019, UNICEF reached 2.1 million people in Syria with improved and sustained access to safe water. The World Food Programme (WFP) also provides food to 5.4 million people a month in Syria. By supporting organizations on the ground to improve sanitation in Syria, the crisis of disease could become a thing of the past.
  3. Economic Devastation. The economic impact of the Syrian conflict has been monumental. Syria’s GDP shrank by more than half between 2010 and 2020, and war has decimated the country’s economy, leading to skyrocketing unemployment levels of 9.6%. As a result, an estimated 90% of the population lives below the poverty line. Families who were once self-sufficient now struggle to meet their basic needs. Poverty is closely associated with malnutrition, weakened immune systems and limited access to health care. These conditions make individuals more susceptible to diseases and less able to recover when illness strikes. In turn, illness can lead to further economic hardship, as medical expenses and lost wages further strain already fragile budgets. Tackling diseases impacting Syria could involve remedying the great economic hardship facing the nation today.

Looking Ahead

While the situation in Syria is serious, international organizations and humanitarian groups continue to provide assistance. These organizations work tirelessly to deliver medical supplies, food and clean water to affected populations. Breaking the cycle of disease and poverty could require collaborative international efforts to provide aid and work toward sustainable peace in the region.

– Genevieve Martin
Photo: Pexels

Noma in Nigeria
Noma, a disfiguring tropical disease in Nigeria, is a preventable and treatable condition that has unfortunately been neglected in impoverished areas in Nigeria. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has taken significant steps to support noma patients and combat the disease. Here is some information about noma and how MSF is tackling noma in Nigeria.

What is Noma?

Noma is an infectious but non-contagious bacterial disease that affects the face, primarily afflicting children between 2 and 5 years old living in impoverished conditions. Despite available preventions and cures, only up to 15% of affected children survive. Noma spreads rapidly, causing devastating damage to facial tissue and bones. Many survivors of the tropical disease in Nigeria are left with severe facial disfigurements and endure discrimination from their communities. The scars left from noma can lead to growth disturbances and result in functional impairment, making basic functions such as eating and speaking challenging. Here are five ways MSF is addressing noma in Nigeria.

5 Ways MSF is Tackling Noma in Nigeria

  1. Advocating for Global Attention: MSF recognizes the lack of epidemiological data and research on noma due to its neglected status. To address this, MSF, alongside 30 countries, has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to officially include noma in its list of neglected tropical diseases. This addition would bring much-needed attention from professionals and ensure early symptom recognition and timely intervention. The WHO will likely decide on this matter during one of its biannual meetings in 2023.
  2. Promoting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The lack of attention that noma receives is a major human rights violation. Noma thrives in regions where poverty deprives families of access to food and medical care. In addition to noma, affected children often struggle with other preventable diseases such as measles and malaria due to a lack of accessible vaccinations. In response, MSF began to fight for the implementation of SDGs to address the underlying causes of noma and improve overall health in affected families and communities.
  3. Conducting Community Outreach Programs: Early detection of noma remains a challenge, with many parents and local healers unaware of the disease’s symptoms until it is too late. MSF has taken a proactive approach by leading numerous outreach programs in Nigerian communities. These initiatives educate parents, health care workers, community members and traditional healers to recognize the early signs of noma. By facilitating early intervention, these programs have been instrumental in preventing deaths and providing simple yet effective treatments like antibiotics, oral hygiene and wound dressing. Thanks to these outreach programs, outreach medical teams identify many patients and send them to Sokoto for treatment.
  4. Training Health Care Professionals: MSF recognizes the need for accurate diagnosis and treatment of noma. In collaboration with the WHO, MSF has trained 740 Nigerian health workers to effectively detect and treat noma. Additionally, the Nigerian Ministry of Health has incorporated noma into the curricula of national and district health schools. On July 28, 2022, the WHO launched a free online interactive noma course that is available to anyone who wants to learn more about the disease.
  5. Providing Free Treatment and Care: MSF, in partnership with the Nigerian Ministry of Health, has been offering free health care and surgeries to noma patients at the Children’s Hospital in Sokoto since 2014. This initiative ensures that financial constraints do not hinder patients’ access to essential medical interventions. The medical teams have provided 1,152 free surgeries to 801 patients, making a significant impact on the lives of those noma affected.

Looking Ahead

Free and accessible health care and SDG action plans have been crucial factors in noma prevention and treatment. MSF and other humanitarian organizations are making a remarkable difference in combating this neglected tropical disease in Nigeria. With ongoing dedication and support, it is possible to work towards a future where noma no longer exists. 

Sophia Holub
Photo: Flickr

Trachoma in MaliLocated on the west coast, Mali is one of the largest countries on the continent of Africa. Mali faces extreme poverty, with numbers continuously rising since the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a variety of diseases in Mali that affect much of the population and can often be fatal.  Trachoma is a disease caused by a bacterial infection that affects the eyes and can eventually lead to blindness. When blindness occurs from trachoma, it is irreversible. According to data from 2022, 125 million people live in places with a trachoma endemic and are at severe risk of being exposed to the disease. Trachoma in Mali was a problem for a number of years. Women are twice as likely to suffer from blindness due to trachoma than men.

The disease spreads more in areas with poor sanitation and overpopulation. It is most commonly found in the larger areas of Africa, previously affecting Mali significantly. It is spread from person to person, originating from an infection in the eye. Trachoma in Mali has not been a quickly fixed battle. Data from the 1980s shows the former prevalence of the disease in the country and the dire need for a solution. 

The SAFE Strategy

Adopted by the WHO in 1993, the SAFE strategy helped supply countries with the resources needed to prevent the spread of trachoma. 

SAFE stands for surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements. The strategy aimed to increase the number of surgical operations performed on those infected with trachoma as well as provide antibiotics to entire communities for the benefit of public health. Because of how easily trachoma can be spread, it was essential to promote facial cleanliness and understand that the infection rate is linked to overcrowded living conditions and unsanitary water. The SAFE strategy has been used in many different countries that suffer from a trachoma endemic, and Mali, among other countries, has finally overcome the public health problem. 

Trachoma in Mali

Political violence in Mali made it very difficult for the country to overcome this endemic problem. When the WHO created the SAFE strategy, the program slowly gained trust and developed a partnership with the Malian government. Diseases like trachoma affect the poorest communities and only lead countries to greater poverty rates. 

Trachoma is the first of the WHO’s neglected tropical diseases that Mali has eliminated, and Mali is the sixth country out of 29 in Africa that has successfully eliminated the disease. 

The WHO has several partners including The Carter Center and Sightsavers which all worked together to assist Mali in combating the disease. Through donations and medical training, trachoma is no longer a public health concern in Mali. It is important to note that several different organizations working alongside the WHO and the Malian government worked together to make this happen and improve the health and poverty rates of the people of Mali.

The World Health Organization recognized Mali for overcoming the trachoma endemic. Today, less than 5% of children suffer from inadequate access to antibiotics to treat trachoma, and the presence of trachoma in adults is nearly zero. On April 27, 2023, the World Health Organization announced that trachoma in Mali was no longer considered a public health problem.

– Alesandra Cowardin
Photo: Flickr