NORRISTOWN, Pa. — To help combat the extensive spread of tropical diseases, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched the Neglected Tropical Disease Program, or NTD Program. Since 2006, this program has worked to eliminate these diseases that affect more than 1 billion people, which equals one-sixth of the world’s population.
As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a neglected tropical disease is part of a specific group of 17 bacterial or parasitic diseases that result in both illnesses and deaths for more than 1 billion people. Typically, NTDs are most prevalent in impoverished communities where antibiotics, clean water and sanitation are not easily accessed.
Onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthes (roundworm, whipworm and hookworm) are the seven most widespread NTDs that USAID hopes to eliminate, through a program of mass drug administration that targets vulnerable populations in 25 countries. The following are three goals that this program works to achieve:
· Eliminate onchocerciasis, also called River Blindness, in the Americas by 2016. Along with visual impairment or even blindness, onchocerciasis can also cause skin disease when it is transmitted through repeated blackfly bites.
· Eliminate lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, globally by 2020. Lymphatic filariasis is spread by mosquitoes and causes body parts to become abnormally enlarged and damages the part of the circulatory system known as the lymphatic system.
· Eliminate trachoma globally by 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, trachoma is the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness; onchocerciasis is the second leading cause.
Although attention has only been brought to these diseases very recently, USAID has been able to make incredible progress in a short amount of time. According to the NTD Program, more than 1 billion NTD treatments have been provided, and through those treatments, more than 467 million people have been treated.
The great success of the NTD Program is evident in Haiti. Approximately 3.6 million people received treatments for both lymphatic fliariasis, which threatens more than 70 percent of Haitians, and soil-transmitted helminthes, according to IMA World Health.
One of the reasons why the NTD Program is so successful in Haiti is because Haitians generally run the program, which is not seen in every country supported by this program.
“The program is exceeding even the most optimistic expectations, putting us in a strong position to rapidly accelerate our prevention and treatment efforts,” said the IMA World Health President Paul Derstine, who traveled to rural Haiti in 2009.
In association with the NTD Program, the One Billion and Counting campaign was launched from May 8 to May 23 to showcase the success of the program. The campaign celebrated the delivery of the one billionth treatment.
The fact that the NTD Program began covering only five countries in 2006 and now covers 25 countries shows how much progress USAID has been able to make within the span of eight years.
USAID also stresses the idea that none of these lives could be saved without support from their partnerships with Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co, Inc., Merck Serono and Pfizer, Inc.
Through these five partnerships alone, a total of $6.7 billion has been donated to 25 countries since 2006.
These widespread NTDs continues the seemingly endless cycles of poverty and disease, but through the USAID’s NDT Program, the treatment and elimination of these infectious diseases could be seen within the next six years.
– Meghan Orner
Sources: NTD Program 1, NTD Program 2, USAID, IMA World Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2, World Health Organization
Photo: End the Neglect