WHO hails ma­jor gains against once ‘ne­glected’ dis­eases

Business World - - WEEKENDER -

GENEVA — The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) on Wed­nes­day hailed “un­prece­dented progress” in the fight against 18 ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases (NTDs) — in­clud­ing dengue fever and sleep­ing sick­ness — which kill 170,000 peo­ple and dis­able mil­lions each year.

The UN’s health agency, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, and civil so­ci­ety groups led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion have been wag­ing a pro­tracted ef­fort to erad­i­cate the group of highly treat­able dis­eases, which had pre­vi­ously re­ceived scant at­ten­tion and re­sources.

“It’s re­ally a story of won­der­ful progress,” the bil­lion­aire Mi­crosoft founder Bill Gates said in Geneva. “A lot of pieces have come to­gether.”

His com­ments came as WHO launched its lat­est re­port on the bat­tle against so­called NTDs.

“Over the past 10 years, mil­lions of peo­ple have been res­cued from dis­abil­ity and poverty, thanks to one of the most ef­fec­tive global part­ner­ships in mod­ern pub­lic health,” WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a state­ment.

A full 1.6 bil­lion peo­ple re­main af­fected by NTDs — more than 500 mil­lion of them chil­dren — but that num­ber is down from more than two bil­lion in 2010, WHO said.

The ef­fort against the group of dis­eases in­ten­si­fied in 2012, when gov­ern­ments and drug com­pa­nies signed the Lon­don Dec­la­ra­tion pact com­mit­ting re­sources to help elim­i­nate the most com­mon NTDs.

Com­pa­nies have since an­nu­ally do­nated hundreds of mil­lions of treat­ment doses, en­abling one bil­lion peo­ple to get ther­apy for at least one dis­ease in 2015 alone.

Be­fore the deal, “we re­ally weren’t or­ga­nized as a global com­mu­nity to solve the prob­lem,” Gates told re­porters, de­scrib­ing the ac­cord’s five-year an­niver­sary as “a mile­stone in global health.”

IN­FEC­TIONS FALL­ING

Great strides have been made to rein in some of the worst ail­ments, in­clud­ing Dra­cun­cu­lia­sis, a crip­pling par­a­sitic con­di­tion caused by the flesh-bur­row­ing guinea worm.

The worm, which ex­ists in South Su­dan, Chad, Ethiopia, and Mali, en­ters the body when peo­ple drink stag­nant wa­ter con­tam­i­nated with par­a­site- in­fected wa­ter fleas.

In its bid to exit the body, the worms, which can be up to a me­ter long, dig their way out of the body, in­clud­ing through the eyes and gen­i­tals.

Last year, only 25 hu­man cases of guinea worm were recorded, down from nearly 900,000 in 1989, when it was en­demic in 21 coun­tries, “putting erad­i­ca­tion within reach,” WHO said.

There has also been a huge re­duc­tion in hu­man African try­panoso­mi­a­sis, com­monly known as sleep­ing sick­ness, which is trans­mit­ted by the tsetse fly.

The ini­tial stage of the dis­ease is symp­tom free, but dur­ing the sec­ond stage the par­a­sites cross into the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem and the brain, where they can be lethal if un­treated.

In 2015, only 2,804 cases were reg­is­tered, down from 37,000 in 1999, WHO said, putting the goal of elim­i­nat­ing the dis­ease al­to­gether by 2030 “on track.”

While much has been done in the bat­tle against NTDs, WHO cau­tioned that progress would stag­nate with­out ef­forts to ad­dress broader poverty-re­lated is­sues.

WHO es­ti­mates that 2.4 bil­lion peo­ple still lack ba­sic san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties like toi­lets and la­trines, while nearly two bil­lion use drink­ing wa­ter sources con­tam­i­nated with fe­cal mat­ter.

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