TACOMA — Togo, a small West African nation, has quietly achieved remarkable milestones in the battle against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). These diseases often afflict the world’s most vulnerable populations, and Togo has emerged as a beacon of hope, becoming the first country to eliminate four NTDs. The WHO shed light on Togo’s triumphant journey recently, rewarding them for their relentless efforts to eradicate guinea worm, lymphatic filariasis, sleeping sickness and trachoma, offering a testament to what dedication, education and promoting access to clean water can accomplish.
Successfully Eliminating 4 Neglected Tropical Diseases in Togo
- Guinea Worm – Guinea worm, also known by its scientific name of dracunculiasis, is an illness caused by drinking unclean water that contains water fleas. The culprit parasite is living inside water fleas and can afflict humans when consumed. Guinea worm has no medical prevention methods, vaccine or otherwise, according to the CDC. However, since the mid-1980s, the number of those inflicted has gone down from 3.5 million to almost zero, with only 15 documented cases in Africa in 2021. This was due to Togo working towards increased health education and access to clean water. The Carter Center was one of the most influential nonprofits in the fight with Togo against guinea worm, and it is still working towards complete eradication of this disease. The Carter Center hopes that guinea worm can become the second human disease to be completely eradicated, after smallpox. In 2011, Togo became the first country to eliminate this waterborne disease.
- Lymphatic Filariasis – Lymphatic filariasis is a disease that can lead to a painful swelling of the limbs or genitals, also known as elephantiasis. It is a mosquito-borne disease; when a mosquito bites someone who is afflicted, the mosquito picks up the larvae of the worm that causes the disease and then gives it to the next people that they bite. This disease leads to intense social stigma and ostracization, but can be treated. In 2017, Togo became the first country to eliminate lymphatic filariasis, by giving those in at-risk populations parasite-killing drugs, therefore breaking down the chain of infection.
- Sleeping Sickness – Togo eliminated sleeping sickness, or African trypanosomiasis, in 2020. This illness is caused by bites from an infected tsetse fly. Togo was able to eliminate this disease in two ways. First, they were actively treating live cases of sleeping sickness because if left untreated, people can infect more tsetse flies and cause more infections, or in extreme cases, die from sleeping sickness. The second path towards elimination was to target the flies themselves, and helping people to avoid areas where there was a high tsetse population while trying to eliminate their population and multiplication. This involved the Togolese government initiating a broad reformation of health care education, as people need to be aware of the threat of the tsetse fly and the areas that it thrives in, as well as be aware of the symptoms and treatment for sleeping sickness.
- Trachoma – In 2022, trachoma became the most recent of these diseases to be eliminated. This disease is another that is caused by a lack of access to clean drinking water, although the primary way it is spread is through flies passing the parasite between people. By 2022, Togo became the first country to eliminate trachoma, showcasing the remarkable impact of health education and clean water initiatives.
Togo was able to achieve the milestone of elimination by using the procedure recommended by the World Health Organization. Accepting the advice of the World Health Organization has helped Togo become the first country to eliminate four neglected tropical diseases.
This strategy goes by the acronym SAFE, standing for Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environment:
- Surgery prevents the progression of the disease to the stage of blindness by parasites, or at a minimum can increase the comfort of those afflicted by the disease.
- Donated antibiotics were given to large swaths of the Togolese people, killing the parasite if it is in anyone’s system, to eliminate the ability to pass it.
- Maintaining facial cleanliness prevents the flies that might be interested in coming near the eyes or nose of an infected person from doing so.
- Lastly, the environment. A cleaner living space, as well as access to clean water, can lead to the complete elimination of disease.
With unwavering determination, Togo has demonstrated that no obstacle is too great when it comes to safeguarding the health and well-being of its citizens. Despite being a country severely lacking in resources, Togo has become the first country to eliminate four neglected tropical diseases.
As the world looks to replicate Togo’s success and chart a course toward a healthier future, many sub-Saharan countries are able to take Togo’s strategies and apply them within their own borders. Through global solidarity, access to clean water and education, it is possible to eliminate all neglected tropical diseases by 2030, as world leaders are hoping.
– Ren Pratt