The global burden of neglected tropical diseases.

After having had a tropical infectious disease about two years ago, I always get a bit emotional when coming across an article about this topic, like I did yesterday when reading this article about neglected tropical diseases in India. In the second paragraph the article states that the experts “explored the need to better understand the economic and social burden posed by these neglected diseases”. When you look at the figures for dengue fever for example, this statement came a bit as a shock to me. Dengue is endemic in over 100 countries and has grown dramatically within recent years and continues to do so, states the WHO. Considering the fact that before 1970 there were only 9 countries that had experienced severe dengue epidemics, this is in my opinion an understatement. 2.5 billion people are at risk for dengue fever, which is over 40% of the world population. The WHO states there are 50-100million dengue infections worldwide each year. The global mapping study that was done by Oxford University mentions in the article “that India had 33million cases of dengue fever, which accounts for one-third of the infections across the world each year.” How can you then not understand the burden this is posing on your country? 

Yet looking at the figures of the WHO, clearly, this is not just a problem in India. The rapid growth and spreading of these diseases show that this has become a global burden. Research has shown that the disease is not only growing but also spreading to new areas and that there have been occurrences of explosive outbreaks. The threat of a possible outbreaks now not only exists in the most seriously affected regions like South-east Asia, the Western Pacific and Africa but also in the US and Europe.

At this time, there is no specific treatment for dengue and there is no vaccine that protects against dengue. Dr. Ahzar states in the article that one of the challenges of fighting these tropical diseases comes from a lack of research and a lack of funds for this research. He states the point that since these neglected tropical diseases aren’t present (or haven’t been present until recently) in developed countries there hasn’t been enough research to find vaccines for them. He believes that in order to find a solution to these problems of enormous scale, there needs to be “a systematic change in shift of healthcare services.” I believe he might be right. In an era where words like globalization, traveling and world trade have become second nature, how is it that dengue fever only got recognized by the WHO as a neglected tropical disease in 1998? Why is it that we don’t seem to be doing a whole lot about these diseases? Is it because there haven’t been many occurrences in the developed world that we deem these diseases as not so important, urgent or threatening? And are we going to wait until they have spread out across the entire world before conducting research about treatment and vaccines for them?

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