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Closer than Ever

Posted on by CAPT Stephanie Bialek, Chief, Parasitic Diseases, Division of Parasitic Disease and Malaria
CAPT Stephanie R. Bialek, MD, MPH, is the Chief of the Parasitic Diseases Branch in CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, Center for Global Health.

Some of the world’s most accomplished disease experts—including several of my colleagues in CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria (DPDM)—are gathering in Geneva this week at the NTD Summit 2017. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of parasitic, bacterial, and viral diseases that cause illness and disability in more than 1.5 billion people worldwide.

CDC works with partners to better prevent, detect, and treat neglected tropical diseases. #NTDSummit17 #beatNTDs

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In addition to the opportunity to share the latest science and data—and certainly not to undervalue the importance of this— the NTD Summit offers well-deserved recognition of the remarkable achievements that have been made towards eliminating these diseases that threaten the health and well-being of so many.

Thanks to strong and united programs and partnerships, we are closer than ever to beating NTDs.

NTDs include onchocerciasis (river blindness), Guinea worm disease, lymphatic filariasis (LF, or elephantiasis), and trachoma (an infection that is a leading cause of blindness), as well as more than a dozen other diseases. While NTDs kill thousands of people every year, their biggest impact is in the millions they disable and disfigure. These diseases devastate individuals, families, and entire communities by keeping children out of school, adults out of work, and depriving millions of people of their most productive years of life. Individuals who suffer from NTDs are frequently stigmatized and socially isolated. These realities are why the collective effort to eliminate these diseases is so important and why the progress made so far is so inspiring.

For some NTDs, the simplest of interventions can play a major role in curbing disease transmission. Here, children in Chad hold pipe filters that are used to prevent the transmission of dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease, through contaminated water sources. Cases of Guinea worm have declined sharply as a result of widespread use of pipe filters and increased awareness about the disease, from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to just 25 cases in 3 countries in 2016.

Today, hundreds of millions fewer people are suffering from NTDs, and several countries have eliminated them entirely. The achievements are impressive and worth highlighting:

  • In the last five years, the number of people at risk for NTDs has been reduced by 20 percent—from 2 billion to 1.6 billion.
  • River blindness has been eliminated in most of the countries in the Americas, with Guatemala (2016), Mexico (2015), Ecuador (2014), and Colombia (2013) declared “onchocerciasis-free.”
  • In 2016, Morocco joined Oman in being verified as eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health problem. China, the Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Laos, and Myanmar have also reported reaching elimination targets.
  • Guinea worm disease, which 30 years ago afflicted more than 3 million people in 20 countries, is on the brink of eradication, with just 25 cases in 3 countries last year.

In the last five years, the number of people at risk for NTDs has been reduced by 20 percent—from 2 billion to 1.6 billion.

River blindness has been eliminated in most of the countries in the Americas, with Guatemala (2016), Mexico (2015), Ecuador (2014), and Colombia (2013) declared “onchocerciasis-free.”

In 2016, Morocco joined Oman in being verified as eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health problem. China, the Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Laos, and Myanmar have also reported reaching elimination targets.

Guinea worm disease, which 30 years ago afflicted more than 3 million people in 20 countries, is on the brink of eradication, with just 25 cases in 3 countries last year.

The hallmark strategy for these successes has been simple, low-cost, community-based approaches. For example, mass drug administration (MDA) to curb many infections costs as little as 50 cents a person per year. In 2015, MDA treatments for NTDs reached nearly one billion—an almost 20 percent increase from just two years ago—thanks to generous donations of medications from the private sector pharmaceutical industry that have leveraged our investments by magnitudes.

Our work, of course, is not complete. DPDM and partners continue to develop better tools to prevent, detect, and treat NTDs, like more accurate diagnostics for lymphatic filariasis and trachoma. These epidemiologic and laboratory innovations help us target our efforts where they are most needed and offer the potential to dramatically shorten our path to eliminating NTDs.

So, while I will acknowledge that there is plenty more work ahead, I still can’t help being an optimist and seeing the glass mostly full. We are closer than ever.

 

Several African countries, including Tanzania, are nearing the end of mass drug administration (MDA) for lymphatic filariasis (LF) and onchocerciasis, and there is a critical need to document the gains made toward the elimination of both diseases. Community members in Muheza, Tanzania, await testing for LF and onchocerciasis.
Posted on by CAPT Stephanie Bialek, Chief, Parasitic Diseases, Division of Parasitic Disease and MalariaTags , , , , , ,

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