Taking “Neglected” out of Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Americas
Date: October 15, 2016
Historically, neglected tropical diseases have received few resources and little attention despite the magnitude of human suffering they cause. In recent years, health has been identified as a human right, and in the Americas, national governments are responding to the rights-based call.
In August in Lima, Peru, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) convened representatives from 17 countries in the Americas to increase attention and action on soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) control. The meeting was attended by stakeholders from The World Health Organization (WHO), and representatives from endemic countries, including program managers from STH control programs, Johnson & Johnson, McGill University, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and Children Without Worms (CWW).
Meeting participants discussed issues including the following:
- Geographic distribution and burden of STH;
- Regulatory challenges;
- Mapping of (potential) partners within the countries;
- Human resource and capacity gaps; and
- Collaboration with the water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) sector.
The meeting highlighted the increasing leadership and focus of national governments on STH control. Between 2013 and 2015, countries – including Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, and Colombia – increased parasitologic monitoring, improved preventive chemotherapy (PC) coverage and reporting rates, and furthered integration of STH and WASH efforts. In Guatemala between 2013 and 2015, PC coverage for school-aged children (SAC) increased from 6% to 98%. For preschool aged children (PSAC), PC coverage increased from 9% to 52% during the same period. Similarly in Honduras between 2013 and 2015, PC coverage among PSAC rose from 18% to 71% and among SAC, PC coverage increased from 50% to 68%.
Leaders from these countries also acknowledge significant challenges remain. Some STH control programs rely on procured drugs of uncertain quality (e.g. for PSAC), coordination between governments and NGOs remains inconsistent, and few countries systematically deliver interventions to women of childbearing age, specifically in hookworm endemic areas.
Existing challenges should not obscure the potential for further progress. Many governments now regard STH as part of an ‘unfinished agenda’ to secure human dignity for all citizens, which bolsters the standing of STH control relative to other public health priorities. The increased focus and attention by national leaders is an important contribution to achieving elimination of STH as public health problem by 2020 in the Americas and beyond. With Johnson & Johnson, the Institute for International Medicine, PAHO, and other partners, CWW continues to support important advances in STH control in the Americas.
Right to Health, Fact Sheet No. 30. Office of the United Nationals High Commission for Human Rights, World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs323/en/