White House launches neglected tropical diseases initiative

Recently, we discussed President Bush’s legacy in Africa and his efforts to tackle HIV/AIDs and malaria (see my previous post here). In the midst of his Africa tour, Bush added another feather to his cap announcing a new plan to tackle neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). For 2008, NTD aid is set at $15 million targeting 10 countries. This new initiative will provide $350 million over five years and target 30 countries worldwide. The initiative address seven major diseases: lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, and soil transmitted helminths.

An interesting aside – all of the NTDs listed are parasitic diseases with the exception of trachoma (caused by a bacteria). Two noteworthy NTDs leishamaniasis and trypansomiasis (also parasites) are absent from this list. Presently, there is a lack of effective and easy to deliver treatment interventions for leishamaniasis and trypansomiasis and I suspect the fact that universal drug donation programs do not exist for those two diseases (major pharmaceutical companies have large drug donation programs for the other 7 NTDs) is the main reason for their exclusion.

But I digress. Why is this news for a malaria blog? The global prevalence of NTDs largely overlaps with areas endemic for malaria. The overlapping endemicity means many people living in these areas will be co-infected leading to increased health burden, especially in cases of similar pathologies (anemia caused by both helminths and malaria). 45 million school-aged children in Africa alone are estimated to be at risk for co-infection with malaria and hookworm and many will remain anemic unless both diseases are controlled. Some promising strategies include those pioneered by Mark Grabowsky (now malaria manager at the Global Fund) and the Measles Initiative where multiple interventions were delivered (measles vaccine, vitamin A, bed nets, deworming medication, etc) during each contact with families.

Despite their collective burden impacting the health and productivity of nearly 1 billion people, NTDs do not receive the same attention as the better known diseases. Still, I’m surprised how such a new high-profile initiative is not getting much attention in the conventional media so far. In any case, NTDs are easy and inexpensive to treat making their control both an ethical and practical imperative.  This administration isn’t perfect, but it has its moments. Well done Mr. President.


1 Response to “White House launches neglected tropical diseases initiative”

  1. 1 The billion dollar effort against malaria | topnaman Trackback on March 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm
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