Technology to Identify, Treat and Track NTDs

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Populations most at risk for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) must be identified in order to receive proper treatment. Mobile applications are being created that can accurately and quickly collect data about NTDs and subsequently create global or country maps that plot the outbreaks of NTDs.

The maps can be used to estimate the numbers infected with NTDs by country, to predict the distribution of NTD infection in areas that lack current health reports, and to determine which areas need to be checked for NTDs.

The Global Budern of Disease (GBD) study estimated that NTDs represent 1 percent of disability adjusted life years worldwide.

However, certain areas are more likely to have an outbreak of NTDs than others. NTDs are most dominant in sub-Saharan Africa, with schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, African trypanosomiasis, and hookworm.

Mass treatment is thus the most cost-effective when treatment in targeted to communities with the highest burden of disease.

But mass treatment cannot be provided unless surveillance systems are created that can measure the numbers of those infected with NTDs in endemic countries.

Cell phones can be used to track and transfer onsite reports of NTD outbreaks. The acquired data is then transferred to a central database equipped with a geographical transmission system that creates either a global or country map in which the outbreaks are plotted.

The maps will include information about other factors that affect the distribution of NTDs, like climate, water, and sanitation. Areas that may be infected but lack reports of current health conditions will also be highlighted.

Mapping initiatives currently include the global atlas of helminth infections, global NTD platform, atlas of human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis e-compendium, and the WHO’s global health repository and efforts by WHO regional offices.

Before the initiatives can take off, mobile applications must be developed that can accurately and quickly collect mapping data and subsequently, publicize the maps.

Mobile phones and network coverage must also be accessible in the surveyed regions. This can be a challenge in Africa where cell phones and coverage vary greatly. Moreover, the poor rural communities that are the most likely to be infected with NTDs, are also the least likely to have cell phones.

The uptake of mobile technology by government programs is limited, but mobile technology projects are a crucial focus of international NGOs and researchers.

Promisingly, the UK government provided funding to a consortium of NGOs and academic institutions to finish the development of a mobile application that will enable the creation of a map that plots outbreaks of trachoma.

Trachoma is an eye infection that may result in adult blindness after repeated infections. It is the world’s primary cause of preventable blindness.  The WHO estimates six million are blind to trachoma and more than 150 million people need treatment.

Trachoma is called the “quiet disease” because it slowly progresses over the course of years with each repeated infection. Each eye infection scars the inside of the eyelid, and the eyelashes will eventually turn in. The eyelashes rub the cornea and scar it, resulting in severe vision loss and eventual blindness.

The scarring and visual change from trachoma can be can be reversed by a simple surgical procedure performed at village level which reverses the inturned eyelashes.

The maps of trachoma outbreaks will be publically available through the global atlas of trachoma within in the next three years for over 30 of the world’s poorest countries.

Mapping of NTDs like trachoma will greatly improve the tracking and treatment of individuals infected with NTDs.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: The Guardian, WHO
Photo: CDC

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