One billion. It can be difficult to conceptualize a number so big. If you were to count one number per second for eight hours a day, counting to one billion would take you more than 95 years.
So imagine the challenge of providing one billion people with necessary medicines in just one year. That may seem impossible, but that’s exactly what the global community fighting neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, has accomplished. In fact, according to the World Health Organization 1, one billion people in need received 1.7 billion preventive treatments for NTDs in 2018 — the fourth consecutive year that number broke one billion.
These incredible accomplishments are the result of ambitious goals, which we celebrated this past January 30, 2020 with the first-ever World NTD Day.
On January 30, 2012, representatives of countries impacted by NTDs, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, and donors came together to sign the London Declaration on NTDs, pledging to work together to fight ten diseases2. Their shared vision was to meet the goals set out in the World Health Organization’s Roadmap for NTDs. Less than a decade later, the number of individuals requiring preventive treatment for these NTDs has decreased by 200 million3,4.
That’s 200 million people who are no longer at risk of going blind because of trachoma, enduring the unbearable itch or threat of blindness from onchocerciasis, facing malnutrition from intestinal worms, or suffering the stigma and disability of elephantiasis. As these individuals become healthier, so do the societies in which they live. In fact, research shows that every dollar invested in eliminating NTDs has a potential to return more than $40 in productivity 5. That amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars restored to the global economy.
But the race is far from won. More than one billion people worldwide remain at risk of becoming ill from these infections. Furthermore, for many NTDs, preventive treatment is still not widely available, and the infections are only managed after symptoms have set in, often too late to stop it from spreading. Scalable solutions are vital to end — and ultimately to prevent — the resulting suffering.
For other NTDs, prevention is a possibility but not yet a reality. For instance, while there has been a steep decline in the number of leprosy cases (with a 99% reduction in individuals needing treatment since the 1980s), progress towards ending leprosy has stalled in the last ten years 6. Preventive antibiotics are now available to help protect from the disease, but getting the medication to the people that need it is still a troubling challenge.
If anything, we need even more ambitious goals to combat the ongoing threat posed by NTDs. This means we need greater innovation to overcome barriers facing control and elimination programs, greater support for new strategies to address an expanding list of NTDs, and even greater dedication worldwide towards helping the more than one billion people affected by these diseases.
Here at The Task Force, we present a united front in the fight against NTDs. With five programs focusing on these diseases — and decades of expertise in partnerships with donors, program implementers, researchers, the World Health Organization, and affected populations themselves — we have seen ambitious goals realized through collective action. On World NTD Day and every day, we are committed to helping neglected populations so that they may live productive lives.
On January 30, 2020, we celebrated World NTD Day with one of our “Topics in Global Health” symposia. To watch the panel discussion with The Carter Center, RTI International, and the International Trachoma Initiative click here.
World Health Organization. (2019). “Neglected Tropical Diseases: treating over one billion people for the fourth successive year.” Retrieved from https://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/news/treating-over-one-billion-people-for-the-fourth-successive-year/en/
Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases. (2012). “The London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases.” Retrieved from https://unitingtocombatntds.org/london-declaration-neglected-tropical-diseases/
The World Health Organization. (2012). “Integrated preventive chemotherapy for neglected tropical diseases: estmation of the number of interventions required and delivered, 2009–2010.” Weekly Epidemiological Record. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/wer/2012/wer8702.pdf?ua=1
The World Health Organization. (2019). “Global update on implementation of preventive chemotherapy against neglected tropical diseases in 2018.” Weekly Epidemiological Record. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/327674/WER9438-en-fr.pdf?ua=1
Redekop, W. K., Lenk, E. J., Luyendijk, M., Fitzpatrick, C., Niessen, L., Stolk, W. A., … Severens, J. L. (2017). The Socioeconomic Benefit to Individuals of Achieving the 2020 Targets for Five Preventive Chemotherapy Neglected Tropical Diseases. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 11(1), e0005289. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0005289
Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy. (2019). “About Leprosy (Hansen’s disease).” Retrieved from https://zeroleprosy.org/about-leprosy/