WHO calls for focus on neglected tropical diseases

New Delhi, Sep 10 (IANS) The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday called for renewed commitments and focused efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases which continue to disable, disfigure and kill people in South-East Asia.

The diseases include kala azar, leprosy, yaws, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis.

“Though called neglected diseases, these are diseases of the people who are neglected, the poorest of the poor. Strong political commitments, and renewed and focused efforts centred around the affected-population are needed to control, eliminate and eradicate these diseases,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO South-East Asia.

She was speaking at a meeting of health ministers and senior health ministry officials from the 11 member countries, in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Some of these neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are fatal if not treated. Others leave the affected population disfigured and disabled, leading to discrimination, high stigma and often social isolation, pushing them further into poverty.

“Stronger surveillance for early detection and appropriate treatment for prevention and cure of all the affected and at risk population is the mainstay of the NTD elimination strategies,” Singh added.

According to her, it needs robust programme management, especially at the sub-national level. The renewed efforts should seek multi-sectoral collaboration and engage the non-health sectors to address the various social determinants of NTDs.

Among the NTDs, though progress is being made against leprosy, the disease continues to be endemic in all countries of the region, reporting 15,50,00 cases, 73 percent of the global cases, in 2013, according to WHO.

According to WHO, nearly 12,6000 cases were reported from India. Six countries in the region — India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka — are among high burden leprosy countries in the world, reporting more than 1,000 new cases annually. The region alone accounted for 60 percent of global leprosy disabilities in 2013.

As many as 60 million people in the region are infected with lymphatic filariasis which is half the global count.

The South-East Asia region reports around 10,000 cases of kala-azar every year. Nearly 147 million people are at risk of kala-azar with the disease being endemic in parts of Bangladesh, India and Nepal, and sporadic cases reported from Bhutan and Thailand.

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