[BLOG] Neglected Tropical Diseases

By Kenneth DeGazon, MD
Associate Clinical Research Director
St. Hope Foundation

There is conflicting data that evidently steer many to believe that Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) are under control. The truth is that these NTD once believed to be confined to developing countries affecting only the poor are among us.

Every year along with other organizations, I am boots on the ground in the most remote and under-served communities in Mexico and Central America. It is eminent that additional resources and outside continuous oversight by Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) & United Nations Organization (UNO) are gravely required. The monetary help never seems to get to the most needed and ends up in the pockets of corrupted government officials. It is small groups of medical missions, churches and non-profit organizations that directly bring help to the needy.

What are NTD, These are vector (insects, fleas, ticks, worms etc.) borne diseases that affect populations with poor housing conditions, lack of safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation. Malnourished and immunocompromised are at higher risk.

According to WHO more than half the world’s population is at risk from vector-borne diseases. There is currently a WHO list of 17 NTDs, of which 7 of these have been given priority.

  1. Dengue (Dengue fever): Viral infection transmitted by a mosquito – endemic to Mexico and Central America.
  2. Chagas Disease: Transmitted by a “kissing bug” that resembles a cockroach, it is a leading cause of heart failure and sudden death throughout Latin America.
  3. Human African Trypanosomiasis (also known as Sleeping Sickness): A parasitic disease transmitted by the bite of Glossina insect commonly known as Tsetse fly.
  4. Leishmaniasis: A disfiguring skin infection transmitted by the Sand Fly.
  5. Lymphatic Filariasis: Parasitic disease caused by microscopic worms that cause Lymphedema and Elephantiasis.
  6. Onchocerciasis (aka River Blindness): A disease transmitted by the Black Fly. Worldwide Onchocerciasis is second only to Trachoma as an infectious cause of blindness. In addition to visual impairment or blindness, Onchocerciasis causes nodular skin lesions.
  7. Schistosomiasis: A disease caused by parasitic worms release by Fresh Water Snails that may infect the urinary tract or intestine. Although the worms that cause schistosomiasis are believed not to be found in the United States, more than 200 million people are infected worldwide. In terms of impact this disease is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease.

Other NTDs which we should also mention are Cysticercosis, which is a parasitic infection caused by a larval pork tapeworm that affects the brain and may lead to seizures and epilepsy.

  • Toxocariasis: A parasitic infection that causes asthma and neurological problems.
  • Murine typhus: A bacterial infection transmitted by Fleas that are linked to rodent infestations.

In overall these are all preventable diseases. The same manner in which countries come together with their allies to go to war, the same must be done to improve worldwide living conditions and quality of life. We need an immigration solution. Vectors need to be eradicated. Educate Healthcare providers on diagnosing and treating NTDs. It’s Imperative to conduct additional research and come up with new medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tools.

References : World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/en/)
Center For Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/ )
United Nations Organization ( http://www.un.org/en/ )