Fighting neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)

As a group, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1 billion people

– and cost economies billions of dollars – every year. These diseases have suffered a historical lack of attention, largely because they thrive in conditions of poverty.

Beyond their neglect, NTDs have little in common, being caused by a variety of pathogens, ranging from viruses to bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and helminths. In 2012, the original WHO Roadmap on NTDs set out specific targets for disease control, elimination and, in some cases, eradication that prioritizes the needs of affected communities rather than individual diseases, for example through the strengthening of health systems. 

These efforts have catalysed action to fight these diseases, and shown that NTD investment is one of the “best buys” in global public health. But while substantial progress has been made, a new 2021–2030 Roadmap highlights critical gaps that still need to be filled to reach the 2030 targets, and stresses the need for multisectoral action, particularly for diagnostics.

Our NTD portfolio focuses on lymphatic filariasis (Hathi Paon) and leprosy

Lymphatic filariasis (Hathi Paon)

Lymphatic filariasis (which is also known as Hathi Paon in India) is a mosquito-transmitted disease that is caused by parasitic worms and which damages the human lymph system.

The disease can cause severe and extensive swelling of the lower limbs (lymphedema), which can be accompanied by painful episodes of fever. People with lymphedema are prone to bacterial infections that can lead to a mobility-limiting condition where the skin thickens and hardens. In men, lymphatic filariasis can also result in the swelling of the scrotum (hydrocele).

Lymphatic filariasis affects the poorest communities, preventing individuals from living a productive working and social life, further trapping them in the cycle of poverty.

Leprosy

Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria, which is often spread through droplets from the nose and mouth. The disease, which can have a long incubation period, causes disfiguring lesions on the skin as well as nerve damage.

The first stage of leprosy leads to loss of sensation and muscle weakness in the facial muscles, hands and feet (this is known as Grade 1 disability). If the disease is not diagnosed and treated, it progresses to a second stage that causes observable and permanent impairments, such as the shortening and/or loss of the fingers and toes, and blindness (known as Grade 2 disability). Leprosy is most common in areas affected by poverty, where overcrowding and poor nutrition make people more vulnerable to infection. Leprosy continues to be a major source of disability and social exclusion for people living with the disease, and their families. The consequences of leprosy can often persist beyond completion of treatment.

Brazil, India and Indonesia account for 80% of the global burden. More than half of all new cases of leprosy are diagnosed in India. In 2018 120,334 – or 57 per cent – of new cases of leprosy were found. 

Our NTD Project

Integrated approaches for disability prevention due to leprosy and lymphatic filariasis (LF)

is being implemented at two locations; Sitapur District in Uttar Pradesh and Malda District in West Bengal. Both the sites have high co-endemicity in terms of leprosy and LF.

Hence the beneficiaries for the project will include persons affected with leprosy and LF. The project outcomes include:

  • Referral center for providing out-patient services for leprosy and LF
  • Decentralized integrated prevention of disability (IPOD) camps for persons affected with leprosy and LF implemented at Panchayat-level
  • Improved public awareness and reduced stigma towards leprosy and LF
  • Increased capacity of the general healthcare system to provide quality services to persons affected with leprosy and lymphatic filariasis
The project which was started in 2018 has served over 1000 individuals suffering from both leprosy and lymphatic filariasis.