Neglected tropical diseases

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization

Best days for public health are ahead of us

21 May 2012 | Geneva

Extract from address by Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

"Ghana’s commitment to guinea worm eradication shrunk the map to its last outpost, in South Sudan. During the first quarter of 2012, cases of this disease dropped 67% compared with last year, and now number just over 100.


WHO leadership brought the neglected tropical diseases from obscurity into the limelight. These Cinderella diseases, long ignored and underappreciated, are a rags-to-riches story.

In January, a pharmaceutical company pledged to step up its contribution of preventive treatments for schistosomiasis10-fold, reaching 100 million treatments per year by 2016.

WHO administers the distribution of the majority of drugs donated to control the neglected tropical diseases. With the January commitment, WHO is now in a position to protect all school-age children in Africa at risk of schistosomiasis.

We can blanket this part of the world with medicines that rid every schoolchild of worms and eggs, parasites that interfere with their learning, impair cognitive development, and compromise their nutritional status.

This is a gift to their health, but also to the education and nutrition sectors.


We must never forget our value system. Never forget the people. Public health is trained in compassion and driven by passion. This will always be our strength, our true comparative advantage.

Persuading others to share this value system is another way to maintain the momentum for better health.

This happened most recently with human African trypanosomiasis. Late-stage sleeping sickness is invariably fatal.