Neglected tropical diseases: An explainer

By: effect:hope staff

Imagine waking up one day with strange patches on your skin. You might worry, scare yourself further by Googling, then resign yourself to a visit to a walk-in clinic. At the clinic, the doctor tells you what you have, and if he or she doesn’t know, you book scans or tests and consult an expert to learn more. You’re diagnosed and treated. You are grateful to live in Canada.

Now imagine the same scenario, but now you live in an area of extreme poverty. You have no idea what the strange patches are, you can’t afford to travel to the nearest medical clinic, and even when you do, the doctors can’t tell you what you have because they don’t know themselves. Days pass, then months. You now have worsened symptoms. Your friends and family make disparaging comments. Your spouse leaves you and you are kicked out of your community. They say you are cursed. You believe it. You live the rest of your days alone, never knowing what disease you have and that a treatment exists! 

Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? I wish I could tell you this was a unique story, but we hear stories like this over and over again. That’s why we’re raising awareness and fighting to end neglected tropical diseases, and the pain, isolation and hardship that goes with it.  

So what exactly are neglected tropical diseases?

Neglected tropical diseases are a group of preventable, treatable diseases that can rob people of their health, livelihood and sense of dignity. These parasitic and bacterial diseases can blind, disfigure and debilitate people who become infected by them. More than 1 billion people today are affected by neglected tropical diseases in 149 countries and territories worldwide.

There are approximately 20 neglected tropical diseases recognized by the World Health Organization that exist around the equator, thus tropical. They include leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, Buruli ulcer, soil-transmitted helminth infections, among other diseases.

The good news

Neglected tropical diseases have largely been wiped out in most of the developed world due to good, standardized infection control methods such as handwashing and clean water.

Today, 500 million fewer people require interventions against neglected tropical diseases than in 2010, and 40 countries, territories and areas have eliminated at least one disease.

With the right investment and action, we can make neglected tropical diseases history! Treatments are relatively inexpensive and many pharmaceutical companies donate drug therapies needed to prevent and treat these diseases.

effect:hope partners with local public health systems and hospitals. We are actively strengthening country health systems so they can overcome these diseases. We are seeing incredible results that we must protect, even during the pandemic.

Our progress against neglected tropical diseases is changing lives and alleviating the human and economic suffering that these diseases cause for the world’s most disadvantaged communities. We are grateful you are partnering with us to eradicate these terrible diseases.

But, why are they called "neglected"?

They are commonly found in remote and developing areas that affect some of the world's poorest people, so they often go unnoticed.

Neglected tropical diseases affect the health of more than 1.7 billion people, making it difficult to earn a living and trapping people in a cycle of poverty and disease. Neglected tropical diseases are the source of tremendous suffering because of their disfiguring, debilitating and sometimes deadly nature.

Social stigma is a major consequence of neglected tropical diseases. In addition to causing physical and emotional suffering, these devastating diseases hamper a person's ability to work, keep children out of school, and prevent families and communities from thriving.

What can I do?

Keep informed. Read and sign up for stories on our blog.

Visit the World Health Organization website to learn more about neglected tropical diseases. Please visit CNNTD to learn about our advocacy work in Canada to eliminate neglected tropical diseases.

Join the fight against neglected tropical diseases. Please visit and end neglected tropical diseases and the stigma that comes with it.

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