The Disastrous Neglect of Neglected Tropical Diseases
With the COVID-19 pandemic pushing even more of the world’s population into poverty and increasing the risk of debilitating illness, now is the time to redouble our efforts to combat neglected tropical diseases. And yet, increasing demands on government budgets seem poised to halt – and even reverse – hard-won progress.
BERKELEY/CHICAGO – US President Joe Biden’s decision to back the call for waiving intellectual-property protections for COVID-19 vaccines reflects the extent of global pressure for universal vaccine access. Yet the world’s poor suffer from many other preventable and treatable diseases, with dire social and economic consequences.
Neglected tropical diseases – such as elephantiasis, trachoma, river blindness, and intestinal worm infections – are virtually nonexistent in advanced economies. But among people living in extreme poverty, they are the most common infections. About a billion people worldwide – including more than 750 million people living below the World Bank poverty line of $1.90 per day – suffer from NTDs every year.
Their suffering can be extreme. NTDs cause severe pain and long-term disability, often leading to social stigmatization. Among children, infection interrupts education and causes malnutrition, impairing intellectual and cognitive development and stunting growth. And by interfering with education and employment, NTDs keep people trapped in poverty.