“To neglect” means “to pay little or no attention to” something. Synonymy of “neglected” include: “disregarded, forgotten, ignored”

I can certainly say that I have “neglected” my social life lately, spending far too much time working. Also, according my colleagues, I have obviously “neglected” my appearance.

What puzzles me is that there is a typology of tropical infections in the world that affect about one in six people, which has been neglected, disregarded, forgotten to the point of being defined Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)! Has anybody heard about lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis, or onchocerciasis and the infections from the soil-transmitted helminthes? Anyone? And yet all these infections can be extremely severe, causing deformities, chronic disabilities like blindness, and social stigmatization.

How could have this happened?

It would be misleading to “blame” the greater attention given to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, the three big-sister diseases that have historically received greater attention and funding. We all know the toll they took in the past decades and the current extraordinary effort exerted by the international community to deal with them.

However, truth is that the so-called NTDs are still endemic in low-income populations in developing regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and they continue to spread because the majority of their victims are those who are often marginalized and “disregarded, forgotten, ignored” those that have the power and resources to promote change. By us!

The lack of attention and funding so far makes treating NTDs a priority. This is especially true considering that NTDs trap the poor in a cycle of poverty, leaving children unable to learn or jeopardizing adults’ ability to work productively and take care of their households. As stressed by WHO, at this point in time “overcoming neglected tropical diseases makes sense both for economies and for development.”

The WHO framework of overcoming NTDs builds on 5 public-health strategies: (i) preventive chemotherapy; (ii) innovative and intensified disease-management; (iii) vector control and pesticide management; (iv) safe drinking- water, basic sanitation and hygiene services, and education; and (v) veterinary public-health services. Integrated approaches are difficult to implement, but they can effectively bring about sustainable development since the improvements made in one sector are enhanced by the advances achieved in another sector. And in fact “evidence suggests that more effective control results when several approaches are combined and delivered locally.”

In 2010, 711 million people worldwide received preventive chemotherapy for at least one NTD, bringing about unprecedented progress. In the same year, embracing the integrated approach highlighted above, the IDB approved the US$10M Georgetown Sanitation Improvement Program. The Program will address the main problems of the sewerage system of Guyana’s capital city, attempting at the same time to decrease the transmission of Lymphatic Filariasis and other water-related Neglected Tropical Diseases through Mass Drug Administration and Education campaigns. Over 310,000 people will benefit from this program.

Not only is eradicating NTD possible. It is also quite cheap (US$0.5 to treat and protect one person for up to a year with preventive medicine!). With some attention and minimum funding, the NTDs themselves could soon be….well… “forgotten”!