Together with more than 240 organizations around the world, we have partnered in support of the first-ever World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day (NTD) on January 30th to beat the painful and deadly diseases. For over a decade, we have fought to rid the world of Schistosomiasis, a parasitic NTD that mainly affects children in Africa. We have donated one billion tablets of treatment as part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate the disease.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Schistosomiasis currently afflicts nearly 240 million people globally, making it one of the six most common NTDs. Through our standard care of treatment, we help cure approximately 100 million school-aged children every year. However, while the treatment works well to rid the body of the parasitic worms, it does not protect against future infestations through contact with freshwater rivers and lakes. Maintaining proper hygiene practices can prevent the disease, so we are working hard to ensure that WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) programs and hygiene education is integrated in many communities.
Breaking the cycle
Bench Maji, Ethiopia, an area prone to many NTDs, is similar to many rural areas in Africa, Asia and South America where there is poor infrastructure and limited access to clean water and other resources.
For young boys like Manyazewal from Bench Maji, it may seem unclear as to why playing in the river with friends poses any danger. But only a few weeks later, Manyazewal was suddenly unable to attend school and found himself lying in bed feeling sick with stomach pain. Little did he know that worms were making their way to his liver, kidneys and bladder.
Unfortunately, his community lacks proper sanitation, creating an endless cycle when those who are infected use the river as a latrine. Fortunately, Manyazewal was able to visit the health center and receive treatment for schistosomiasis. With his treatment, he was also instructed not to use the river to defecate so that he and his friends could one day play in the river again.
The people of Bench Maji recently incorporated an experimental latrine with a ventilation system that not only prevents waste from being transmitted through the river, but also reduces odors and keeps out flies. This simple design might rid the town of Schistosomiasis and many of the other 19 NTDs, proving how one good idea can save lives.
Path to eradicated tropical diseases
We are committed to donating however many tablets it takes in order to eliminate the disease for good, along with supporting the development of educational materials. The most efficient method for ensuring young school children, men and women do not get infected is to push for more alternatives to domestic activities such as avoiding bathing and washing clothes in lakes and rivers. Methods such as chlorination and boiling water have been efficient to purify the water, although it is certainly difficult for many infested areas to have enough access to clean water for all its purposes.
Through our partnerships with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and the NALA Foundation, we have established teams of researchers and educators in Bench Maji. Here, we have set up a community-based approach using educational materials to train and educate approximately 260,000 school children in 290 schools as well as the greater community to bring awareness and initiate behavior change. Our program combines treatment, health education and WASH trainings (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene).
Fighting stronger than ever
In order to beat NTDs, we are intensifying our focus on research and development to provide access to transformative and sustainable health solutions to these rural communities. We have established a portfolio of innovative and collaborative projects for new and adapted treatments, sensitive schistosomiasis diagnostics and technologies to control transmission. With our research programs, we are also enhancing scientific education and strengthen health systems in low- and middle-income countries.
These projects include the development of a pediatric formulation, via a Consortium of partners to treat children younger than six, drug discovery activities for new treatments, our collaborative work to develop a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) to improve mapping and case detection for schistosomiasis, and our partnership in Senegal to explore new clean water technologies for reducing exposure of vulnerable populations to parasites.
In light of the inauguration of World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day, we remain committed to not only eliminating Schistosomiasis, but also to spreading awareness to the prevention methods of these diseases so that we can break the cycle of poverty and poor health across the globe.