Disproportionate NTD burden in South Asia

A map of South Asia

A study has found that there is a lack of Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) management in the South Asia, with only one country in the region reaching targets of eliminating soil-transmitted helminth infections.

The comprehensive review published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases recommends that all NTD intervention programs in eight South Asian countries need to be improved to reduce the problem, which affects billions of people.

NTDs are a list of 17 infections set down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that affect the world’s poorest people. NTDs are distinctly more prevalent among people who are living below the poverty line. A different study recently reported that these diseases affect 1.8 billion people in South Asia, almost a quarter of the world’s population.

The researchers, led by Dr Peter Hotez, examined prevalence, distribution and control measures of NTDs. Data on helminth infections, lymphatic filariasis, dengue fever and rabies were among those pooled from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Dr Peter Hotez,  said: “Although comprehensive programs to eliminate NTDs are under way, national control programs need to be expanded. Such programs require integration with improvements in sanitation and access to clean water.”

The review showed a target established by the World Health Assembly to reduce the incidence of helminth infections, such soil-transmitted hookworm, is only being reached by Bhutan.

The report suggested there are some successful projects to eliminate NTDs in South Asia. These include mass drug administration set up by the Global Programme to eliminate lymphatic filariasis (LF), one of most debilitating diseases which can causes severe swelling. The overall prevalence of LF was cut in half between 2004 and 2008, and the WHO aims to eliminate LF completely by 2020.

For other NTDs, intervention programs need to be expanded. These could include vaccination against canine rabies; and a combination of insecticide and bed nets against dengue fever-carrying mosquitos.

The comprehensive review, which examined all published data between 2003 and 2010 for the eight countries included in the World Bank definition of ‘South Asia’. In the past, similar reviews have looked at the NTD burden in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Americas.

Map of South Asia – Created by Priya Chatterjee, The George Washington University

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