NEGLECTED BUT TREATABLE
Authors: N.K. Ganguly & Rahul Srivastava
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Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are widespread among low-income populations in developing tropical regions (Africa, Asia, and the Americas). The diseases that are most prevalent in India include lymphatic filariasis, soil transmitted helminthiases, trachoma, visceral leishmaniasis, dengue, rabies, cysticercosis and Japanese encephalitis. India also bears a high burden of intestinal worm infections (hookworms, whipworms and Ascaris worms).
Two significant public health campaigns will roll-out in February and address the problems of intestinal worms (or soil-transmitted helminth) and lymphatic filariasis. While on National Deworming Day (February 10) children between ages 1 to 19 through schools and anganwadi centres would be dewormed in order to improve their nutritional status and well-being, the Lymphatic Filariasis Programme will administer those above two years with anti-filarial drugs across select endemic districts. Both programmes involve the distribution of drugs free of cost through periodic rounds of mass drug administration (MDA).
Clear communication strategies are needed to reduce infection in a community to levels below the threshold at which vectors cannot spread parasites from person to person. This happens only if a large part of the population, including those who have not contracted the disease, consumes the drugs.
The WASH strategy
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) strategies is a critical component of prevention and care for all NTDs. Provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene is one of the five key interventions in the global NTD road map. Potential of WASH and NTDs must be linked to get optimum results.
NTDs significantly impair response to standard childhood immunisations. Successful NTD programmes can improve vaccine efficacy.
10 countries have now eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem across the Pacific-African regions ahead of the global target year of 2020. Lessons learnt from Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the South Asian region are what can help India prioritise and intensify efforts to eliminate filariasis.
NTD-control programmes are community-based. India’s commitment towards NTD elimination is critical to meet the global target of elimination of intestinal worm infections and lymphatic filariasis by 2020.