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What are neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)?

More than 1.4 billion people worldwide suffer from them - many millions of them die each year from their consequences: Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). These diseases often occur in poorer parts of the world, where neither access to clean drinking water nor to adequate medical care is ensured.

NTDs are infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites. Some of the infections are transmitted by insects, others by contact with contaminated water, or by other routes of infection that are still unknown, although the disease has been around since human thought. NTDs, if left untreated, can lead to chronic symptoms, disability, and even death.

A total of 20 diseases are among the neglected tropical diseases. Around 90% of those affected suffer from one of the following diseases (also known as the "Big Five"): elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), river blindness (onchocerciasis), soil-transmitted worm diseases, trachoma and schistosomiasis. If left untreated, these diseases lead to permanent disabilities such as blindness, severe physical disabilities, or impaired physical and emotional development in children.

Unfortunately, there is still no effective therapy for many of these diseases. There is often a lack of funds for research, as there are usually no customers with the purchasing power to finance the immense research and development costs.

In order to help people suffering from this disease and to eradicate the disease, in 2012 the WHO, the World Bank, the 13 leading pharmaceutical companies and numerous organizations and governments committed to eradicating/controlling ten neglected tropical diseases by 2020 as part of the "London Declaration". Arguably the largest global health program, this was to provide around 14 billion treatments, increased drug research and support for infrastructure development. Since then, pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca, GSK, MSD, Pfizer and Sanofi have donated drugs with a total value of around EUR 18 billion to treat NTDs.

Approximately 400 million patients have been successfully treated as a result - 31 countries have successfully eradicated at least one NTD.

At the end of January 2021, the WHO presented a roadmap for combating NTDs by 2030. According to this, the number of patients suffering from NTDs is to be reduced by 90% and the amount of years of life lost due to NTDs is to be reduced by 75% by the end of the decade. A detailed overview of the WHO's plans can be found at here.

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