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Over 560 million people in Africa at risk of neglected tropical diseases

New Vision logo New Vision 09/10/2020 (Maurice Okore)

Over 560 million people across Africa remain at risk of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) a group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that include among other river blindness and intestinal worms.

A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) research and analysis division of The Economist Group says in the over 54 countries across Africa where NTDs persist, there is a great economic and social burden due to these diseases.

The most common NTDs in Africa are intestinal worms and schistosomiasis (bilharzia).

NTDs affect societies' most marginalised and poverty-stricken communities that often have limited access to clean water and good sanitation. If left untreated, these diseases can cause disability and early death.

According to the ministry of health in Uganda, NTDs also cause reduced economic productivity and social stigma.

Found in Uganda include among other lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), leprosy, schistosomiasis (bilharzia), and soil-transmitted helminthes (intestinal worms), plus sleeping sickness.

Now African countries and stakeholders have been asked to go beyond the continuous treatment of disease and move towards preventing disease through improved sanitation programmes, health education, and data collection.

The report also points out the need for governments to own and lead initiatives so that solutions are better tailored to local needs.

The economic benefits of ending these diseases are profound across all levels of society, and require a locally owned multi-stakeholder approach," said Karen Palacio, Associate Vice President, Programs, The END Fund a private philanthropic Initiative to control and eliminate NTDs.

The report that focused on Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe suggests that meeting the WHO's NTD 2030 targets could result in GDP gains of $5.1bn at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) - a measurement that uses the prices of specific goods in different countries to compare currencies - between 2021 and 2040.

In terms of impact by country, the report indicates that Ethiopia, which has the greatest NTD burden of the four countries, could record the largest gains ($3.1bn) followed by Kenya ($1.3bn), Rwanda ($0.4bn), and Zimbabwe ($0.3bn).

These economic gains would be a direct result of reductions in illness that would allow adults to work and contribute more actively to the economy.

Besides, eliminating parasitic infections among school-age children would improve their ability to learn and attend school.

"In the last 10 years, we have had tremendous improvements in the health of the children. We have dramatically reduced morbidity. But we cannot stop the control interventions now. If we stop, we lose all the benefits", Dr. Antonio Montresor, Medical Officer, in charge of soil-transmitted helminthiasis, Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases, World Health Organisation (WHO) explains.

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