The other day, we were given an assignment by our community medicine lecturer. He had insisted we read more on ‘Neglected Tropical Disease’. The last time I heard about this subject matter was way back in my pre-clinical days. Neglected Tropical Diseases is truly a neglected group of disease, it is not even a common phrase is mainstream medicine and surgery. It is just ‘there’.
It is in fulfilment of my assignment that I want you to also know about this ‘not so popular’ group of disease.
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), is a group of tropical diseases seen particularly in low income countries of Africa, Asia and even in South Americas. I found out that this group of disease is as severe, in terms of effects and impact, as malaria and tuberculosis. NTDs are a spectrum of diseases caused by pathogens like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
These diseases are seen in low income countries because of the absence, or near absence, of basic preventive measures and amenities, unlike in above average income countries.
These disease includes ascariasis, Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, Dracunculiasis, hookworm infection, Trachoma, Trypanosomiasis, Leishmaniasis, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, Trichuriasis, Dengue Fever, Cysticercosis, Taeniasis, Echinococcosis, Rabies. These are as listed by WHO.
However, epidemiologically, the 6 most common NTDs are soil-transmitted helminths (STHs) – specifically roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and hookworms (Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale) – Schistosomiasis, Trachoma, and Lymphatic Filariasis (LF).
Other neglected conditions, according to the WHO, include Snake Bite.
Note that Cryptococcal meningitis is not considered neglected because it is related to HIV/AIDS.
There is still controversy, between the CDC, WHO and other infectious disease experts, on which diseases should be classified under neglected tropical diseases.
These diseases are neglected, not because it does not cause a significant number of the population, but because it not basically a disease of the developed countries. It could be due to political reasons or because it is not economically expedient to fight these conditions. Far more resources are dedicated to the bigger disease.
For us here in Africa, these diseases are still significant. They are real, they are of economical importance. We can not look the other way on this. It is of public health importance to both patients and health professionals.
This may just be the reason why an average medical student do not have this term in his or her vocabulary.