How Drug Manufacturers are Treating Neglected Tropical Diseases

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SEATTLE, Washington — According to both the World Health Organization and the United Nations, disease prevention and treatment is an important front in the global war on poverty. Major diseases often take the forefront of humanitarian aid, leaving treating neglected tropical diseases in Africa, for example, to other organizations and resources. Certain drug companies are helping to pick up the slack and working with organizations like WHO to prevent and treat neglected tropical diseases.

Major Diseases Prominent in Poverty

Diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are commonly associated with poverty and comprise 18 percent of the diseases in the poorest countries. Diarrhoeal conditions can often have an even larger impact on impoverished areas due to lack of sanitation. While treating these diseases is very needed work, it sadly only scratches the surface of the relationship between disease and poverty.

Treating lethal infectious diseases and water and sanitation specific conditions require a multi-pronged solution. For example, antiretrovirals may be enough to reduce the symptoms and even suppress the virus, but people must also be provided with the necessary resources and education on how best to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease. Addressing these diseases requires a great deal of attention, often to the detriment of those plagued by less deadly, but still debilitating diseases.

Neglected Tropical Diseases

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are often less prevalent diseases such as trachoma, river blindness, elephantiasis, bilharzia and intestinal worms to name a few. Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, the director of control of NTDs at WHO, believes that treatment for NTD’s takes a backseat because of other more severe health crises in nations like South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. Meanwhile, some of the poorest nations in Africa are reporting results of successful campaigns against NTDs.

Efforts to combat NTDs are not only giving individuals back their health but also the ability to work and thrive. From 2015 to 2017, the population of people in need of treatment for an NTD in sub-Saharan Africa shrunk by 25 million from 630 million to 605 million. Ghana has eliminated trachoma, making it the first sub-Saharan African country to accomplish such a goal. The reports and statistics prove that efforts towards preventing and treating neglected tropical diseases in Africa are effective and should be replicated in other countries where NTDs are virtually unmitigated.

Uniting to Combat NTDs

Uniting to Combat NTDs reported that Botswana is home to over a quarter million people at risk of contracting an NTD, yet only 2 out of 100 people are receiving treatment or preventative measures. By far the most prevalent NTD in Botswana is intestinal worms, which spread through human waste and contaminate water sources. Intestinal worms cause stunted growth and malnutrition.

Uniting to Combat NTDs and the African Regional Office of the WHO are working in Botswana to help strategize and roll out new programs. Furthermore, Botswana has pledged $6 million in government spending for NTD initiatives, but the country is also taking advantage of preexisting programs run by WHO.

Drug Companies Treating NTDs

One such program run by WHO distributes chewable medicine that treats and prevents infection from three different worms. The medicine is manufactured and donated by Johnson & Johnson, who has been a partner of WHO since 2010 and has donated over one billion of these chewable tablets as well as other medicines. Johnson & Johnson is not the only drug manufacturer enlisted in treating neglected tropical diseases in Africa.

Pfizer has been indispensable in the global fight against trachoma, a contagious bacterial eye infection that can cause permanent blindness if untreated. In 2018, Pfizer recommitted to fighting trachoma around the world by pledging to continue donating antibiotics to WHO until 2025. Shortly after the Pfizer announcement, the Ghanaian government announced that trachoma had been eliminated from their country, a disease that had been prevalent in Ghana since the 1950s.

In 2000, the Trachoma Elimination Programme was formed in order to implement the S.A.F.E strategy recommended by WHO. The program provided surgery, supplied antibiotics, promoted facial cleanliness and worked towards environmental cleanup to reduce transmissions of trachoma. Surgeries were provided free of cost as were antibiotics, and facial cleanliness was promoted through radio ads, community programs, schools and distribution of soap.

Impact Around the World

In 2017 and 2018, six countries all had eliminated trachoma as a public health issue and many other countries had drastically reduced or eliminated other NTDs. While some countries are meeting goals in eliminating NTDs, others are seeing these diseases become more prevalent. In Yemen, trachoma has popped up in the wake of conflict. Fortunately, WHO, along with the medicines provided by drug companies like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, has been on-hand to fight trachoma in Yemen.

The combined efforts of national governments, drug manufacturers and WHO along with its partners have created an effective system for treating neglected tropical diseases in Africa. This method can now be replicated around the world making the elimination of these diseases not just possible but feasible.

Nick Sharek

Photo: Flickr

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