Neglected Tropical Disease Programmes On Pause Due To COVID-19
Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, director of NTD Control at WHO

As COVID-19 puts the world collectively on pause, essential programmes for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are also feeling the cut.

NTDs are estimated to impact up to 1.3 billion people around the world, mostly prevalent in poor, marginalized communities with low access to healthcare.

“One of the things that’s been severely affected is our neglected tropical disease programmes,” said Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, director of NTD Control at WHO. “Particularly in Africa, as part of the focus on social distancing, we’ve had to stop most of the mass drug administration programmes.”

“NTDs are a group of 20 diseases, including elephantiasis, sleeping sickness, leprosy, trachoma, and intestinal worms that collectively wreak havoc on the poorest and most marginalized communities,” explained WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “These diseases disfigure, disable and can kill. And they strike hardest in place spaces of poverty. And in remote areas where access to quality health services is extremely limited.”

Mass drug administration (MDA), or the regular administration of safe anti-parasitic drugs to everyone living an NTD-prevalent area, is a cost-efficient intervention that helps control the most common NTDs, such as intestinal worms.

But in the wake of COVID-19, official WHO guidelines have urged countries to put a pause on MDA campaigns.

The focus now is on how to improve programmes as countries come out of lockdown, post-COVID-19, said Ntuli Malecela.

“Are there innovative ways that we can actually carry out these programs where people can be treated… while ensuring the safety of the people being treated and the safety of the community health workers who are treating them? That is the ongoing discussion,” she added.

A new, 10-year Roadmap for NTD control will be released in late August by the World Health Organization. The organization will be hosting a series of webinars in anticipation of the Roadmap launch.

For more on NTDs, see the draft Roadmap here.

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