Combating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has seen "unprecedented progress", according to a WHO report on NTDs published last week (16 January).
New public health strategies, improved supply of cost-effective medicines and global support mean that the 17 neglected diseases are closer to being controlled or eliminated, the report 'Sustaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases' finds.
- WHO report hails 'unprecedented progress' in tackling neglected tropical diseases
- The diseases are closer to being controlled or eliminated
- Innovation has played a key role but it is only part of the solution, says WHO expert
But some diseases — including particularly deadly ones such as sleeping sickness and visceral leishmaniasis — "remain extremely difficult and costly to treat", the report says.
And control of Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease and yaws, a bacterial skin infection, is hampered by "imperfect technical tools", while innovations in vector control deserve more attention as these play a key role in reducing the transmission of and disease burden for dengue, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis.
"We can be confident about meeting the targets to eradicate guinea worm disease in 2015 and yaws in 2020," Jean Jannin, coordinator of the WHO's Innovative and Intensified Disease Management team, tells SciDev.Net.
"We've also seen significant progress in other diseases," he adds, citing leishmaniasis, which has a good chance of being eliminated from Bangladesh and Sudan by 2020.
Jannin says that innovations in diagnostic tools, drug development and control strategies have contributed to the progress made in combating neglected tropical diseases.
For example, he says, drugs for sleeping sickness are now safer and easier to administer.
But innovation is only part of the solution, Jannin says.
"The WHO supports all kinds of innovation, but we cannot sit back and wait for research and development [R&D] to produce the magic bullet. It has to be done in parallel with control programmes in affected countries," he says.
"We are trying to control these diseases with tools that are presently available, while promoting and supporting R&D for these kinds of complex diseases," Jannin adds.
Jeremiah Norris, director of the Center for Science in Public Policy, at the Hudson Institute, United States, agrees that "unprecedented progress has been made in controlling NTDs".
"Only 0.12 per cent of the US$28 million that the donor community contributed to global health in 2010 was allocated to NTDs," he tells SciDev.Net. "But when you look at what we've achieved with the resources we have, it's been quite a success."
But Norris adds that the WHO's report could have expanded upon the social and economic impact of NTDs "on the poorest 1.4 billion in our world".
"Our recent report concluded that neglected tropical diseases are the best buy in global public health today," he says. "For example, the administration of a once-a-year therapy, ivermectin, prevents river blindness at a unit cost of 57 US cents per patient. NTD programmes yield both a health and an economic outcome at pennies per person served."