Neglected Tropical Diseases
More than a billion people worldwide suffer from Neglected Tropical Diseases (short NTDs). The WHO defines 20 tropical diseases as “neglected”. All NTDs have in common that they predominately affect the poorest parts of the world’s population. Neglected Tropical Diseases such as leprosy, river blindness, elephantiasis, schistosomiasis, rabies, intestinal worm infections and sleeping sickness mostly appear along the “tropical belt”.
What are Neglected Tropical Diseases?
While the name of these diseases may imply that they only occur within tropical regions, some NTDs have in fact placed a significant burden on the population of historical Europe. Nowadays, NTDs occur above all where medical care, safe drinking water, and sanitation are lacking.
In most cases, they do not lead directly to death but cause blindness, disfigurations, and disabilities. Affected children often lag behind their peers, while the working lives of adults are severely impaired.
People affected by NTDs often are pushed into an endless cycle of poverty and disease. Despite the suffering caused by Neglected Tropical Diseases, there is a significant lack of research, easy-to-use diagnostics, and medicine to lessen the burden of the countries affected. In some cases, even the cause and transmission of a disease may be unknown.
Holistic view on NTDs
Neglected Tropical Diseases place a heavy burden on fragile health systems. They are an indicator of poverty and inequity. However, their impact on global health is often overlooked. To progress with global goals such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), awareness for NTDs as a challenge for global health needs to increase.
Genuinely leaving “no one behind” requires a clear focus on providing underserved communities with better access to health care. The “Swiss Alliance against Neglected Tropical Diseases” (SANTD) is linking related topics such as diseases of poverty, zoonotic diseases, Malaria, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and Disability-Inclusive-Development to help establish a more holistic view on NTDs and their impact on global health.
Neglected Tropical Diseases plunge communities into endless cycles of poverty by keeping children out of school and depriving millions of their most productive years of life. With the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) firmly in place, global leaders want to ensure that “no one is left behind” from development progress until 2030. Reaching the underserved by providing access to existing and new medicines for the treatment of NTDs plays a critical role in achieving this goal.
Despite better tools and data as well as significant advancement in many countries that are attaining program goals in hard-to-reach areas, an insufficient emphasis of the global community on NTDs and a considerable investment gap are hindering the necessary progress.
Neglected Tropical Diseases can be eliminated or even eradicated. The availability of diagnostics and drug therapies has made some NTDs curable. Through joint-projects, the global community has managed to almost eradicate some diseases and significantly limit the spread of others. To some degree, Governments and politicians are slowly beginning to recognize the impact of NTDs on global health topics such as poverty and social injustice.
Ongoing changes within the NGO community are slowly eroding the “silo thinking” and lead to a more holistic view on NTDs. We are still far from winning the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases. However, the previously mentioned changes highlight that successes are indeed possible and within our reach.
NTDs affect over a billion people
The fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases requires a global effort. Switzerland has joined this fight several decades ago and continues to contribute on various levels. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is supporting projects in the fields of development cooperation, research, and development. Notable PDPs that receive support from SDC are the SANTD members Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative (DNDi) and Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND).
In the course of the last twenty years, NTDs have been established as terminology and a field of expertise. By fighting these diseases, Switzerland based organizations have become part of a global movement to eliminate and/or eradicate NTDs. However, contributions to this worldwide challenge have often been made by small communities within Switzerland. As of now, there has been only limited coordination on a national level. The Swiss Alliance against Neglected Tropical Diseases has been formed to map Swiss NTD activities and create awareness for existing and new synergies within the community.
The Swiss efforts to combat Tuberculosis, AIDS, and Malaria have already been formalized and coordinated through networks. In the case of NTDs, this has yet to be achieved. By forming SANTD, the Swiss NTD community has committed to unit and work hand in hand. Through a continuous exchange of knowledge and expertise, SANTD’s members are dedicated to discovering opportunities for collaborations.