Global Health Asia-Pacific March 2022 March 2022 - Page 56


How COVID has affected the control of neglected tropical diseases

Author : Francisca Mutapi , Professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity and co-Director of the Global Health Academy , University of Edinburgh .
This article was published in The Conversation on March 2022 : https :// theconversation . com / how-covid-hasaffected-the-control-of-neglected-tropical-diseases-178324 . Global Health Asia-Pacific is republishing it under Creative Commons licence .

Neglected tropical diseases is an umbrella term used to describe a group of 20 infectious diseases . These diseases affect over 1.7 billion people . They can disable , debilitate and even kill . The world ’ s most vulnerable and poorest are most affected . In the past , the diseases in this group have been overlooked internationally and poorly funded domestically : hence the “ neglected ” in the name . Some common neglected tropical diseases are Buruli Ulcer , Dengue Fever and Hansen ’ s disease ( also known as leprosy ).

There are already tools to prevent and treat these diseases . They include drugs , vector control , veterinary public health interventions and provision of safe water and toilets .
In the past 10 years there have been significant global efforts to control neglected tropical diseases . In 2012 , pharmaceutical companies , donors , endemic countries and non government organisations came together to sign the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases . Together , they committed to control , eliminate or eradicate ten of these diseases by 2020 and improve the lives of over a billion people . Support from the signatories ranged from donation of the essential medicines to financing the delivery and distribution of the drugs , research , and funding for sanitation and safe water . These concerted global efforts have yielded successes and are grounds for optimism .
To date , 600 million people no longer require treatment for neglected tropical diseases . Cases of some of these diseases , such as leprosy , sleeping sickness and Guinea worm disease , are at an all-time low . Forty-four countries have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease as a public health concern . Most recently the Gambia and Saudi Arabia eliminated trachoma , a bacterial infection which causes blindness .
However , this progress is now at real risk of reversal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic . Drug programmes have been interrupted , health budgets reprioritised and aid cut .
As I have previously highlighted , interrupting control programmes could lead to rebound infections and disease . These could be worse than the original levels . This is now an imminent reality for neglected tropical diseases if control programmes do not resume quickly enough .
Interrupted disease control One of the most important tools to use against neglected tropical diseases is national mass drug administration . This involves treating every member of a population , regardless of their infection status , because treatment is cheaper than diagnosis and the drugs are safe . Typically the national treatment programmes are annual events conducted in schools or health centres . It takes time , effort and money to plan and implement these programmes . And it ’ s critical to maintain momentum . Every dollar spent on these programmes yields a significant return on investment . This is why neglected tropical disease control has been termed a “ best buy ” in development .
The pandemic has affected neglected tropical disease control in three ways .
First , mass drug administration was stopped or interrupted by the lockdown and social distancing policies . And disruptions in global trade and transportation affected supply chains . A recent World Health Organisation survey indicated that , as of early 2021 , disruptions in neglected tropical disease control programmes occurred in 44 % of countries .
Second , national governments in neglected tropical disease endemic countries have low health budgets .
Cases of some of these diseases , such as leprosy , sleeping sickness and Guinea worm disease , are at an all-time low .
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