Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Neglected Tropical Diseases: Becoming Less Neglected?

Ascaris lumbricoides (the "large common roundworm"),
a soil-transmitted helminth;
Here is a nice article outlining the global problem of neglected tropical diseases, or "NTDs." These are a group of seventeen tropical infections, mostly worms, that are associated with high morbidity (things such as poor growth and mental development in children, pregnancy complications) but low mortality. Despite their major negative effects on health they do not receive much "press" (as opposed to better known diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis).

It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the world currently suffer from an NTD. 

The article links to the "END7" campaign that has some great resources about NTDs, including a two minute long YouTube video that is worth checking out. Some nice general information about the seven most common NTDs can be found here.

In our work in Honduras we focus on decreasing the burden of NTDs, specifically, soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms). We estimate that somewhere between 30-70% of the patients we see are infected with one or more of these worms. We provide anti-helminthic therapy according to WHO guidelines, with the hopes of decreasing the overall burden of these infections in the population at large. According to the WHO, "deworming school-aged children is probably the most economically efficient public health activity that can be implemented in any low-income country."

The overall tone of the Guardian article is hopeful, noting that the movement to combat NTDs has gained momentum. However, as emphasized in the article, efforts to combat these diseases should be inter-disciplinary and address both environmental health issues in addition to eradicating disease at the individual level.

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