1.6 Billion People Threatened by Neglected Tropical Diseases

WHO presents report on successes and outlook until 2020
Photo: A child in Tigray receives anti-trachoma medication as part of Light for the World's MDA effort. Credit: Aleksandra Pawloff

To many Europeans, they sound unfamiliar or at most like memories from a distant past - yet Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) like leprosy, river blindness, sleeping sickness, and trachoma threaten the well-being of up to 1.6 billion people worldwide and inflict individual suffering as well as massive economic damage on world's poorest communities and prevent them from reaching their full potential. At the Geneva Summit on NTDs, which starts today, health experts from all over the world will be discussing the progress of the campaigns, the campaign's successes, and its future funding for four days. 

The London Declaration on NTDs

The London Declaration on NTDs – signed on 30 January 2012 – initiated one of the most successful public-private partnerships in the history of global health. Pharmaceutical companies, donors, endemic countries and non-governmental organizations committed to working together across sectors and countries to tackle NTDs by a variety of joint measures including drug donation programmes, advanced research and development, increased funding, and regular monitoring of the progress made.

Today, the successes of the past five years are impressive. Fewer people than ever before are suffering from these diseases, and many countries are eliminating them. In 2015, nearly a billion people received NTD treatments, and the number of people at risk for NTDs had fallen by 20 percent since 2012. "When international organisations such as the WHO and their partners work together with the pharmaceutical industry, many of these diseases can be eliminated or eradicated in a relatively short period of time. That saves many millions of people and their familiesfrom a terrible fate”, Light for the World medical expert, Dr. Amir Bedri Kello, who is attending the Geneva Summit, rejoices at the progress made so far.

Endgame for Trachoma

Light for the World has been most strongly involved in the fight against blinding trachoma, an infectious eye disease caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, which over time leads to the eyelashes turning inwards causing permanent scarring of the cornea and irreversible blindndess. Trachoma is endemic in 42 countries with nearly 182 million people at risk of infection. The disease is responsible for blindness or visual impairment in as many as 1.9 million people worldwide. In Ethiopia alone, 75 million people live in endemic areas. Globally, 3.2 million need eyelid surgery in order to avoid losing their eyesight from trachoma. The WHO estimates the loss of economic productivity by people suffering from trachoma to more than 7.5 billion euros. Together with our partner organisations, Light for the World plans to finally eradicate the disease by 2020. The total costs are estimated at 950 million euros. As part of the WHO's Mass Drug Administration strategy against NTDs, Light for the World distributed over 10 million doses of drugs donated by Pfizer in 2016.

Dr. Kello is confident that "Through joint efforts of partners from industry, NGOs and governments, we face the great opportunity in history to eliminate these diseases permanently."