Globally, more than one billion people are infected by Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Of these, almost one third lives in Africa. Now the plague of these neglected diseases has collided with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the result could be disastrous.
The number of NTDs is rising and threatens a new generation of African youth as never before. Governments have concentrated scarce health resources on fighting COVID-19; field campaigns to fight NTDs have been suspended; and the pandemic is pushing millions of more people into poverty, making it even more difficult to afford basics like healthy food, much less medicines.
In Africa, governments must protect 560 million people at increasing risk of death and permanent disability from neglected tropical diseases. Children go blind from parasites. Adults suffer disabling pain from Guinea worm disease. Men and women are disfigured with swelling limbs by elephantiasis. Some 20 different neglected tropical diseases kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year.
Less than 50 cents is needed to treat five common NTDs per person per year, limited investments to eradicate NTDs have reflected an insufficient attention to human suffering. It is not just the diseases. It is a collective negligence of the poor and the voiceless who are the primary target of NTDs, which are spread by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation. Efforts have fallen well short of the need, and have often benefited the wealthy over the poor.