Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Health Organization Aims to Eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases by Mary-Katherine Ream,

The World Health Organization (WHO) is intensifying efforts to prevent, control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases, ailments that plague the developing world. The new WHO campaign aims to eradicate at least 10 of these illnesses by 2020.

In announcing the plan January 30, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said it "represents the next step forward in relieving and, in many cases, finally ending the vast misery caused by these ancient diseases of poverty."

Through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and countries like the United States, WHO hopes to substantially diminish the international impact of these diseases.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) afflict more than 1 billion people worldwide and result in a significant reduction in lives and livelihoods. Many of the diseases, which are transmitted through insect bites or contaminated water, can be prevented with simple measures like mosquito nets or drug treatments. In poor countries, however, even simple solutions can be too expensive or unavailable.

The plan outlines an international strategy closely aligned with the Obama administration's Global Health Initiative (GHI). President Obama said: "We cannot simply confront individual preventable illnesses in isolation. The world is interconnected, and that demands an integrated approach to global health."

The WHO document, entitled Accelerating Work to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Roadmap for Implementation, targets 17 NTDs ranging from dengue fever to soil-transmitted helminthiases. Each ailment is unique, differing in geographical distribution, method of transmission and impact on health.

For example, soil-transmitted helminthiases, commonly known as intestinal worms, spread through three different types of pests. Humans contract the infection by eating food, drinking water or walking on soil infested with diseased worm eggs. After a few weeks, they develop intestinal discomforts such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Helminth infections are the most common in the world. WHO's road map strives to contain the infection through preventative drug treatments and improved sanitation.

The report also recommends the mass administration of medicine to suppress another NTD, lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis. This illness is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito infected with a filarial parasite. The infection causes abnormal swelling of body parts, severe pain and disability. WHO estimates that more than 120 million people are infected with this grossly disfiguring disease. The plan suggests controlling the mosquito population with pesticides and insect nets to help stem the spread of this disease.

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