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The United Kingdom has set aside nearly £450 million to be used in the fight against neglected tropical diseases, easily preventable and treatable afflictions that continue to bring suffering to millions across sub-Saharan Africa and other tropical countries in Asia and the Americas.
The funds will be used to tackle NTDs over the next five years, and the UK government hopes to protect over 200 million people by funding new research and availing drugs where possible. This will include providing a billion preventive treatments for those at risk.
“These diseases belong to the last century. They cause unimaginable suffering and pain to some of the world’s poorest people, forcing them into a deeper cycle of poverty with no way out. Yet they are treatable,” said Ms Priti Patel, secretary for the Department for International Development, which shall oversee the disbursement of the funds.
Of the 18 known NTDs, the UK intends to specifically target Guinea worm, visceral leishmaniasis (in Asia), trachoma, and lymphatic filariasis.
As of January, cases of Guinea worm disease in Africa had been reported only in Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan; Mali, where the disease had been endemic, had gone a year without a case. As such, it is the NTD most likely to be eliminated first, though dogs (Chad) and war (South Sudan) have been an obstacle to its eradication.
Trachoma is an infection that causes the eyelids to turn inwards and scar the eyeball, resulting in irreversible blindness. 85% of all cases are in Africa, with South Sudan and Ethiopia suffering the highest prevalence. The UK will work towards preventing up to 400,000 cases.
Lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, is a mosquito-transmitted disease present in 73 countries across the globe. Because the worm that causes the disease cloisters itself in the lymphatic system, multiple doses of combined medications are required to tackle this disease, and only through persistence can the disease be overcome.
For instance, it has taken Togo 15 years of sustained effort to be recently declared free of lymphatic filariasis.