Neglected tropical diseases elimination to save $143m

Zimbabwe could save $143 million if efforts are scaled to eliminate five of the most neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which include bilharzia and intestinal worms.

By Phyllis Mbanje

According to the Global Health Strategy, needless loss of lives will be avoided, while disability will be reduced if NTDs are eliminated.

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa last year said 57 out of the country’s 63 districts were prone to bilharzia, which, if untreated, can cause infertility and other health complications.

This follows a survey that revealed that bilharzia and intestinal worms were prevalent in many provinces.

As of 2010, Zimbabwe was affected by four of the five most common NTDs, including lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms) and trachoma.

“Fortunately, however, much work is ongoing to prevent and treat NTDs in Zimbabwe and protect people against these debilitating diseases,” Global Health Strategy for East and Southern Africa communications consultant, Sarah Akinyi said. New data relased last week showed that sub-Saharan Africa could save $52 billion between 2011 and 2030 if the region meets the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2020 targets for controlling or eliminating the five most common NTDs.

This data, developed by Erasmus University, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was released at an event hosted by the End Fund, an international philanthropic organisation, together with the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda.

“NTD control efforts offer a return on investment unparalleled in global health,” End Fund chief executive officer, Ellen Agler, said.

“Ending these debilitating diseases will help reduce poverty at all levels, from families and communities to whole nations.”

NTDs are a diverse group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that are particularly prevalent in areas with limited access to safe water, proper sanitation and adequate medical services.

Sub-Saharan Africa bears over 40% of the global burden of NTDs.

The five most common NTDs — elephantiasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), bilharzia, intestinal worms and trachoma — account for 90% of the region’s NTD burden. At least one of these diseases is present in all 47 countries of the WHO’s African region.

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