Over the last five years, African countries have recorded what has been described as an unprecedented success in the fight against a group of infectious diseases collectively known as “neglected tropical diseases.”
Neglected tropical diseases affect more than 1 billion people in some of the world’s poorest countries, according to the BBC.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies 18 infectious diseases that occur in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries of the world as neglected tropical diseases.
They include river blindness, guinea worm, trachoma, visceral leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, dengue, chikungunya, leprosy, sleeping sickness, and Chagas disease.
In a statement, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said the recent success was the product of a partnership between a host of public and private organizations, including the WHO, government representatives, pharmaceutical companies, and several charity/aid groups including the Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation.
At a 2002 meeting in London, the organizations pledged to reduce or eliminate at least 10 of the neglected tropical diseases by 2020. Without treatment, many of the diseases can cause disability in children and stop adults from leading productive lives.
Bill Gates said the partnership had yielded some impressive results, “None of these diseases are getting worse. They are less neglected than they used to be.
“We’re behind on some of the very ambitious goals, which were set in London for 2020, but the burden from all these diseases is getting better.
“And for some, such as lymphatic filariasis (a mosquito-borne worm which causes limbs to swell), there’s been a big reduction in the population we need to treat, from 1.5 billion to 1 billion people.
“Guinea worm is close to the end, with only 25 cases last year, though the unrest in South Sudan is making this work harder. But it’s not going to spread back in big numbers.
“And we’ve had huge progress on sleeping sickness (a parasitic infection which can kill), with cases now down to under 3,000. This is a fantastic story.
“It’s a hard area to explain because it’s not just one disease, and there is a certain complexity to the individual diseases.”
In a related development, the U.K. announced an extra £200m in funding to fight neglected tropical diseases. The funding will go toward the distribution of drugs and research in to new drugs.
The secretary of the U.K. Department of International Development Priti Patel said the aid would protect more than 200 million people “from a future blighted by tropical disease.”
“These diseases belong to the last century. They cause unimaginable suffering and pain to some of the world’s poorest people, forcing them in to a deeper cycle of poverty with no way out. Yet they are treatable.
“These diseases have been named ‘neglected’ for a reason, but I’m not prepared for them to be neglected any longer.”