Why are some tropical diseases called "neglected"?

Online Q&A
January 2012

Q: Why are some tropical diseases called "neglected"?

A: The people who are most affected by these diseases are often the poorest populations, living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones. Neglected tropical diseases persist under conditions of poverty and are concentrated almost exclusively in impoverished populations in the developing world.

Lacking a strong political voice, people affected by these tropical diseases have a low profile and status in public health priorities. Lack of reliable statistics and unpronounceable names of diseases have all hampered efforts to bring them out of the shadows. They include dengue, rabies, blinding trachoma, Buruli ulcer, endemic treponematoses (yaws), leprosy (Hansen disease), Chagas disease, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), leishmaniasis, cysticercosis, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), echinococcosis, foodborne trematode infections, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharziasis), soil-transmitted helminthiases (intestinal worms).

Neglected tropical diseases affect more than 1 billion people, primarily poor populations living in tropical and subtropical climates. They are frequently clustered together geographically and individuals are often afflicted with more than one parasite or infection. More than 70% of countries and territories that report the presence of neglected tropical diseases are low-income or lower middle-income economies.

Infections are caused by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation. Children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, which kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year, often resulting in life-long physical pain and social stigmatization.

There is reason to be optimistic, however. Many neglected tropical diseases can be prevented, eliminated or even eradicated with improved access to existing safe and cost-effective tools. Control relies on simple interventions that can be carried out by non-specialists -- for example schoolteachers, village heads and local volunteers -- in community-based preventive action.

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