tropical diseases
Neglected tropical diseases
are diseases that are either bacterial or parasitic and infect around one in six people around the world. Over half of a billion children are infected with these diseases.

These diseases are considered “neglected” because they do not receive very much attention or funding from governments or medical communities around the world.

These diseases tend to be especially widespread in areas with high levels of poverty, bad sanitation and poor access to health care. These diseases tend to especially affect women and children.

While they are grouped together, neglected tropical diseases can be very different from one another. Some kill quickly while others will infect for years or simply harm, but not kill, their victims. Some are parasitic, caused by parasites, and spread through mosquitoes, snails or flies. Others are bacterial and are spread through water or soil.

Treatments for these diseases also vary. Some have cheap treatments available (although this could potentially lead to drug resistance), others have no treatment or a very expensive or difficult treatment.

According to the World Health Organization there are 17 neglected tropical diseases. Here is a brief description of the seven most common neglected tropical diseases. These seven diseases account for 90 percent of global cases of neglected tropical diseases.

1. Ascariasis (roundworm) is the infection of the small intestine that is caused by a roundworm. The eggs of the roundworm are often ingested and the eggs then hatch in the person’s intestine. They then reach the lungs through the bloodstream. The worms can grow to be longer than 30 centimeters. Roundworm causes about 60,000 deaths each year.

2. Trichuriasis (whipworm) is spread and moves through the body like roundworm. Around the world about 700 million people are infected with whipworm.

3. Schistosomiasis (snail fever) is caused by parasitic worms. A person can become infected by coming in direct contact with contaminated fresh water. Over 200 million are infected with snail fever around the world.

4. Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) is transmitted through mosquitoes and damages the lymphatic system causing painful, visible disfigurations. More than 120 million are infected around the world.

5. Trachoma is an infection of bacteria in the eye, causing the yield to turn inwards, eventually resulting in blindness. Six million people are blind due to trachoma.

6. Onchocerciasis (river blindness) is a parasitic disease caused by flies that carry larval worms that grow to cause blindness, lesions and loss of pigmentation in the skin.

7. Hookworm is spread and moves through the body like whipworm and roundworm. Around 600 million people throughout the world are infected with hookworm.

Although neglected tropical diseases affect millions, they are relatively inexpensive to treat: for around 50 cents a year, one person could be treated and protected for all of the seven most common neglected diseases.

– Lily Tyson

Sources: Reuters, Global Network, CDC, WHO
Photo: EndTheNeglect

Lymphatic filariasis (LF), a condition known as “elephantiasis” that can lead to the severe and debilitating swelling of the arm or the leg, is considered one of the most disabling diseases for those affected. In Haiti, the condition is present in 118 of 135 communities, which leaves 88% of the country as a potential risk zone. It is classed as a “neglected tropical disease;” although it has long disappeared from industrialized countries, it remains a severe threat for those living in developing regions of the world.

Mass Drug Administration (MDA) was achieved on a national level in Haiti in 2012, with many of the endemic regions having taken part in the program for at least four years. The LF infection can be prevented and treated with a combination of medicines – a single dose of Albendazole and Diethylcarbamazine Citrate – that cost about 50 cents per person each year. The World Health Organization recommends that the drugs are taken for five years in order to stop transmission of the disease, but acknowledges that it is just as important to address the emotional effects of the infection, as it is the physical.

Haiti’s MDA program is now up for assessment; while the project has been successful in reducing transmission, applying the concept to Haiti has been challenging. Extreme poverty, periodic social unrest, and depleted health system infrastructure have persisted as roadblocks to the program. Now, a more holistic approach is being taken by the disability charity, CBM. In partnership with the University of Notre Dame and Hospital St. Croix, CBM is addressing the unmet need of those who already have LF; by setting up self-help groups, they are empowering patients through self-care education, and psychological and emotional support. These clubs meet twice a month and participants receive information about self-care, hygiene and basic limb care. All members receive a hygiene kit, which includes alcohol swabs and antiseptic soaps to clean their feet.

The CBM program combines global heath research and education and puts the two elements into practice; not only does it help prevent LF, but it provides care for those affected by it. Community programs, such as the one provided by CBM, addresses issues other than the physical disability, by promoting inclusion and tackling the stigma for people suffering from clinical manifestations of LF. This comprehensive partnership complements the MDA program and is a crucial mechanism in the fight to address, prevent, and eliminate elephantiasis in Haiti.

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: The Guardian, The Root
Photo: Management Sciences for Health