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[ABUJA] A global database for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) "is feasible and should be expanded without delay", the developers of a first ‘proof of concept’ for such a tool have said.
While efforts to eliminate NTDs have improved over the years, a georeferenced, global, open-access database is essential to boost the work, they said in a paper published last month (13 December) in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
"There is a paucity of empirical estimates regarding the distribution of infection risk and burden of NTDs at the national, district or subdistrict level in most parts of the developing world," they wrote.
Such information is essential for planning and implementing cost-effective, sustainable control interventions in areas where there is limited knowledge of disease distribution.
To investigate the feasibility of a database, the authors focused on schistosomiasis — a chronic disease that affects more than 700 million people worldwide, according to the WHO. Initially, they conducted a literature review and contacted ministries of health and research institutions in endemic countries in Africa to obtain location-specific survey data on the prevalence of the disease. The data is now freely accessible on the Internet, and can be downloaded in common formats and also displayed in maps.
At the beginning of 2011, the database contained more than 12,000 survey locations in 35 African countries. It has since been expanded to include countries outside Africa and other NTDs, such as leishmaniasis, and the authors hope that the database will continue to be developed.
"Our database has, for the first time, provided needed data on schistosomiasis in Nigeria, for instance, that can be further analysed and used for planning control activities at national, state and local government levels," Uwem Ekpo, a public health parasitologist at the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, in Nigeria, and an author of the paper, told SciDev.Net.
"For many NTDs, knowing where they have been reported is the first step to planning a control programme. Our database provides this information to interested parties."
But one major obstacle to the success of NTD control in developing countries is the absence of political will on the part of governments to fund NTD activities, Ekpo added. In Nigeria, for example, it has been international funding that has led to most of the successes in NTD control.
"Until countries like Nigeria see the need to provide special funds for NTD control, they will be left behind," he said.
Ekpo is calling on NTD researchers to provide regular updates and other information to develop the database.
PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001404 (2011)