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Focus on neglected diseases

29th October 2006

29102006_whogeneva400.jpgThe World Health Organization (WHO), together with more than 25 partner organizations, has unveiled a new strategy to fight some of the most neglected tropical diseases that destroy the lives and health of poor people.

The approach contained in a newly published manual, Preventive Chemotherapy in Human Helminthiasis, focuses on how and when a set of low-cost or free drugs should be used in developing countries to control a set of diseases caused by worm infections.

Preventive chemotherapy in this context means using drugs that are effective against a broad range of worm infections to simultaneously treat the four most common diseases caused by worms: river blindness (onchocerciasis), elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminthiasis. Significant opportunities also exist to integrate these efforts with the prevention and control of diseases such as trachoma.

Preventive chemotherapy does not necessarily stop infection taking place but it can help to reduce transmission. The benefit of preventive chemotherapy is that it immediately improves health and prevents irreversible disease in adults, according to Dr Lorenzo Savioli, Director of the WHO Department for the Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases in Geneva.

He said the regular and coordinated use of a few drugs could protect people against worm-induced disease, improving children's performance at school and the economic productivity of adults.

The new approach provides a critical first step in combining treatment regimens for diseases which, although different in themselves, require common resources and delivery strategies for control or elimination.

The second key component of the strategy brings together for the first time dozens of agencies, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies and others into a coordinated assault on neglected diseases.

These organizations are integrating their expertise and resources to deliver the manual’s protocols for wide-scale drug use. A wealth of experience and success already exists in the public health community in dealing with these diseases.

More than one billion people are afflicted by these diseases. Their impact can be measured in the impaired growth and development of children, complications during pregnancies, underweight babies, significant and sometimes disabling disfigurements, blindness, social stigma, and reduced economic productivity and household incomes.

These effects can now be dramatically reduced by scaling up interventions using highly effective drugs of proven quality and excellent safety record -- the majority donated free by companies or costing less than US$ 0.40 per person per year, including the cost of the drugs and their delivery.

 

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