A push to train local health workers is an important element behind the campaign's success
By Inna Lazareva
LONDON, Dec 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A pledge by health and development experts to tackle neglected diseases that blind, disable and disfigure millions of the world's poorest people has spurred tremendous progress in five years, a report said on Thursday.
More than one billion people were treated in 2016 for painful infections, such as sleeping sickness and elephantiasis, as increased funding, drug donations and political will helped health workers reach patients in remote areas, it said.
"There are hundreds of millions more people getting treated now than five years ago," Ellen Agler, head of the END Fund, a philanthropic initiative to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
"Effective partnerships and efficient systems to get medicines to those most in need have been built."
The 2012 London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, set a goal of controlling, eliminating or eradicating 10 diseases, including leprosy and river blindness, by 2020.
NTDs affect one in five people globally, mainly in areas of extreme poverty, often trapping individuals in a cycle of social exclusion.
The number of people affected by NTDs has fallen to 1.5 billion from almost 2 billion in 2011, the report by Uniting to Combat NTDs, a partnership backing the 2020 goal, said.
Since 2012, five countries have eliminated trachoma as a public health problem - meaning it no longer poses a major threat to community health - and four countries in the Americas have eliminated river blindness, it said.
A push to train local health workers is an important element behind the campaign's success, the report said, as they are trusted by rural communities never reached before.
"We have an obligation to ensure that (communities) are part of the solution," said Julie Jacobson, a programme officer with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, adding that South Sudan has only had one case of Guinea worm disease so far this year.
Only 26 cases of Guinea worm disease have been reported so far in 2017, down from more than 1,060 cases in 2011, it said.
British physicist Stephen Hawking said this week that eliminating neglected tropical diseases is "within our grasp".