How has Covid-19 interrupted neglected tropical diseases and its control measures in Africa
Neglected tropical diseases is an umbrella term used to describe a group of 20 infectious diseases. These diseases affect over 1.7 billion people. Forty-four countries have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease as a public health concern. Most recently the Gambia 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 re-prioritised and aid cut.
Some common neglected tropical diseases are Buruli Ulcer, Dengue Fever and Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy).
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 ..
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 sic ..
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 ..
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.
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.
Third, a significant amount of funding for neglected tropical disease control programmes comes from international development partners and foreign governments.
Post-COVID-19 economic contraction in their economies and shifts in funding priorities are threatening the gains made in controlling neglected tropica ..
For example, the UK recently withdrew over £150 million of funding to neglected tropical disease programmes as part of cuts to the country’s aid budget.
Long term consequences
Continued neglect of these diseases has dire consequences. Those affected continue to suffer the devastating diseases, associated health inequities and cycles of poverty. The effects of these diseases are pervasive and wide-ranging.
This will further weaken their health systems, compromising their ability for timely surveillance, detection and containment of the next epidemic.
The opportunity to put global attention back on neglected tropical diseases will come later this year when the London Declaration is superseded by the Kigali Declaration.
It is important to remember that controlling neglected tropical diseases is in the best interest of all countries – those where the diseases are endemic and those where they are not.