Focus on neglected tropical diseases: WHO

SEAR/PR/1613

New Delhi/Dili, 10 September 2015: The World Health Organization has called for renewed commitments and focused efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases - kala azar, leprosy, yaws, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis - which continue to disable, disfigure and kill people in the WHO South-East Asia Region.

“Though called neglected diseases, these are diseases of the people who are neglected, the poorest of the poor. Strong political commitments and renewed and focused efforts centred around the affected population are needed to control, eliminate and eradicate these diseases,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said at a meeting of health ministers and senior health ministry officials from the 11 Member countries, in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Some of these neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are fatal if not treated. Others leave the affected population disfigured and disabled, leading to discrimination, high stigma and often social isolation, pushing them further into poverty.

Stronger surveillance for early detection and appropriate treatment for prevention and cure of all the affected and at risk population, is the mainstay of the NTD elimination strategies. This needs robust programme management, especially at the sub-national level.

The renewed efforts should seek multisectoral collaboration and engage the non-health sectors to address the various social determinants of NTDs, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Among the NTDs, though progress is being made against leprosy, the disease continues to be endemic in all countries of the Region, which reported 155 000 cases, 73% of the global cases, in 2013. Nearly 126 000 cases were reported from India. Six countries in the Region – India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka are amongst high burden leprosy countries in the world, reporting more than 1000 new cases annually. The Region alone accounted for 60% global leprosy disabilities in 2013.

As many as 60 million people in the Region are infected with lymphatic filariasis which is half the global case count. About 700.9 million people in the Region are at risk of lymphatic filariasis with the disease being endemic in nine countries, all except for Bhutan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The WHO South-East Asia Region reports around 10 000 cases of kala-azar every year. Nearly 147 million people are at risk of kala-azar with the disease being endemic in parts of Bangladesh, India and Nepal with sporadic cases reported from Bhutan and Thailand.

Indonesia is one of the highest burden countries for yaws in the world. Timor-Leste and Indonesia are the only two countries in the Region reporting yaws cases. Schistosomiasis persists in three isolated pockets of two Indonesian districts. Hard to reach areas, lack of safe water supply, sanitary latrines, lack of awareness and inadequate efforts in snail control being the leading causes.

WHO in the Region is prioritising NTDs for elimination. Though progress is being made, accelerated efforts are needed to meet the global elimination milestones and even sustain the progress.

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