WHO urges billions in fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases | News | DW | 19.02.2015
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WHO urges billions in fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases

The WHO is urging billions of dollars in investments to combat neglected tropical diseases such as dengue fever, leprosy and sleeping sickness. Some 1.5 billion people are estimated to be affected by NTDs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report Thursday calling for billions of dollars in investments to fight 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) which kill a half a million people globally every year.

Some 1.5 billion people in 149 countries are affected by NTDs such as dengue fever, leprosy and sleeping sickness, according to the WHO. The UN organization forecasted a total of $34 billion needed for the fight against NTDs in the next 16 years.

"Increased investments by national government can alleviate human misery, distribute economic gains more evenly and free masses of people long trapped in poverty," WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.

To better fight NTDs, the WHO called on developing countries to invest $1 per person per year to battle the diseases until 2030, which it says would represent as little as 0.1 percent of current national health spending of the developing countries affected by NTDs.

Of the 1.5 billion people affected by NTDs, the majority live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Dirk Engels, leader of the WHO department of control of neglected tropical diseases.

But the diseases also affect populations in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia and can also appear in European countries, Japan and the United States.

Engels said while NTDs often impact the poorest people in a country, they are also affecting middle-income nations where growth is accelerating.

"Endemic countries can play their part," Engels said. "Some endemic countries are fast developing, and as they move up the ladder they also have more means to pay for tackling NTDs."

Recent progress a cause for optimism

Ebola Sierra Leone Oktober 2014

The WHO says the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is evidence of the consequences of ignoring diseases that are not prevalent in wealthy western countries

The WHO report stated that progress has been made combating certain NTDs in recent years. For example there were only 126 cases Dracunculiasis, or guinea-worm disease, reported in 2014, compared to nearly 1,800 in 2010 and 3.5 million during the mid 1980s.

"Eradication of this disease is achievable with continued effort and investment," the report said.

The UN organization also cited the elimination of river blindness, a parasitic infection that causes itching, bumps under the skin and potential loss of sight.

Engels also highlighted the ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa as evidence of the risk of doing nothing in combating NTDs.

"Ebola has shown that when there is real urgency, something can be done (by foreign donors and pharmaceutical companies)," Engels said. "But it's also shown that maybe we shouldn't wait until it is urgent.

bw/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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