Addressing Neglected Tropical Diseases During COVID-19

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NORTHRIDGE, California — Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a category of 20 communicable diseases that affect more than 1.7 billion people worldwide. NTDs commonly affect the most vulnerable people in developing nations. The stigmatizing and debilitating nature of NTDs perpetuates cycles of poverty within developing countries. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress made toward eradicating NTDs risks being lost. Various organizations are addressing neglected tropical diseases, ensuring that they are not overlooked during the pandemic.

NTDs and COVID-19

NTD interventions are mostly community-based, utilizing methods such as surveys, searching for active cases and mass treatment campaigns. Physical distancing, one of the public health measures implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO) to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, interferes with such efforts to respond to NTDs. Additionally, supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic affect NTD interventions because of the limited availability of essential supplies, medications and vaccines.

WHO’s Road Map for Fighting NTDs (2021-2030)

On January 28, 2021, WHO officially announced a new road map to fight NTDs over the next decade. In this plan, WHO sets ambitious goals for addressing neglected tropical diseases. These include reducing the number of people in need of NTD treatment by 90% and reducing the number of disability-adjusted life years due to NTDs by 75%. Furthermore, WHO wants at least 100 countries to eliminate at least one NTD. Finally, WHO aims to completely eradicate dracunculiasis (guinea worm) and yaws. It also integrates other goals such as expanding access to healthcare and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.

Uniting to Combat NTDs

WHO’s 2021-2030 road map for fighting NTDs builds on the 2012 London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases. Partners from global health and development organizations and the private sector that signed on to this declaration formed a coalition now known as Uniting to Combat NTDs. The coalition first supported the goals of the London Declaration and now supports the new road map. It does this by collaborating with WHO, as well as partners in the public and private sectors, to empower countries to meet the goals outlined in the road map.

In 2020, Uniting to Combat NTDs started an awareness campaign called End the Neglect to mobilize the international community to support the new road map. The End the Neglect website highlights the positive impacts of contributions from the U.K. in the fight against NTDs and provides shareable content to help spread awareness about NTDs. It also shares case stories of people living with NTDs and the people helping to combat them.

Youth Combating NTDs

Young people play a critical role in the fight against NTDs. During a July 2020 webinar, WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, emphasized the importance of youth involvement in the new road map because of the innovation and creativity that they bring to the table as they do for other issues such as environmental and social justice issues.

At the same time that Uniting to Combat NTDs created the End the Neglect campaign, it also launched an initiative with the Future Africa Forum called Youth Combating NTDs. Driven by a vision for an NTD-free world, Youth Combating NTDs empowers youth advocates and leaders to bring about changes that will end NTDs in their communities. In December 2020, with the support of Uniting to Combat NTDs and the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, Youth Combating NTDs launched the World NTD Day Storytelling Competition in which it invited young artists to share stories that will encourage the international community to act against NTDs.

The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to undo the progress made in the fight against NTDs, but organizations are all working together to amplify the voices of communities affected by these diseases and support interventions for NTDs. Addressing neglected tropical diseases is an important component of breaking cycles of poverty around the world.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

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