The Invisible Hurdle: Neglected Tropical Diseases
You’ve probably never heard of leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis, among many other diseases, belong under the umbrella of ‘neglected tropical diseases’- diseases that affect more than 1 billion worldwide, especially developing countries in Asia and Africa. Many of them, such as ascariasis, can be treated with accessible mediation, such as albedazole. As the name implies, they do not receive much attention from policy-makers, despite being an unavoidable hurdle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals - 17 goals set by the UN in 2015, which includes eradicating abject poverty and hunger, while developing education, sanitation, and gender equality.
(Source: Foundation for Neglected Disease Research)
Although subtle, it is undeniable that NTDs have broad linkages and effects, connected to a large number of aforementioned goals. Therefore, with the goal of alleviating NTDs, one would be accelerating progress in a number of other developmental areas, such as poverty, as a strong and healthy population is essential for economic development. NTDs such as leishmaniasis can cause severe disfigurement, withholding victims from working and providing for their families, while burdening their families with medical costs. Many countries with a high prevalence of NTDs are low-income or developing, such as South Sudan, ergo the government can’t support free healthcare, exacerbating the problem.
On a local level, this might lead to generations locked within an incessant cycle of poverty, due to medical bills and few providers. On a nationwide level, this might lead to significant economic losses- a study of elephantiasis (a parasitic disease that leads to extreme swelling and disfigurement) in India showed that the economy lost $842 million per annum, due to treatment costs and reduced working hours.
It is indisputable that some parasitic NTDs are directly linked to malnutrition, such as ascariasis, caused by a species of parasitic roundworm. The worms tend to reside within the host’s small intestine, and absorbs all the nutrients, while simultaneously depriving their host of them. Deprivation of nutrients can lead to various unpleasant consequences- for example, a person deprived of protein will contract Kwashiorkor’s disease, in which fluid causes swelling under the skin, and an enlarged belly. The effect of NTDs on hunger is furthered by the fact that many countries possess agriculture as a major industry. With debilitated farmers, production will decrease, causing an increase in food prices, and widespread hunger.
Education Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Educational outcomes are extremely limited for children affected by any debilitating disease, and some might have to opt out of school in order to care for others affected by the spread of NTDs. Many of NTDs are caused by parasitic worms, which can be controlled by annual, school-based deworming- a process which decreases absenteeism by 25%, while being affordable, as it costs 50 cents per child. A higher population of educated people is correlated with better employment, therefore improved economic development, advancing a country on a nationwide scale.