Recent reports by the World Health Organization show that officials around the world have made great strides towards ending tropical diseases.
In 2015, more than one billion people were treated for at least one tropical disease. Since that time, those numbers have dropped considerably as efforts against such pathogens have grown.
This push first began five years ago during a meeting in London where officials pledged to work to curb certain neglected diseases. Various governments pledged to control or eliminate 10 neglected tropical diseases — including guinea worm, river blindness, and trachoma — by 2020. Since that time, companies have donated more than seven billion treatments to places in need. Those efforts, combined with improved water and sanitation practices, have greatly improved the fight against tropical illnesses.
About 170,000 people die from one of those illnesses every year. However, thanks to the recent efforts, none of them are getting worse. The mosquito-born lymphatic filariasis now only affects 1 billion people — down from 1.5 billion — and there were only 25 reported cases of guinea worm last year. In addition, sleeping sickness has less than 3,000 cases worldwide.
Five of the 10 diseases are being targeted by big programs that work to distribute multiple drugs to high-risk areas. Companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Sanofi are giving aid, and a wide range of organizations have come together to pledge more than $800 million for the cause. The UK also has announced that it will double support for fighting neglected tropical diseases.
“The UK is a critical donor,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who also started the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, told BBC News. “As somebody who’s very measurement-oriented, I find that partnering with the UK on these health-related areas is a great way to spend money and lift these countries up. Anyone who gets to see these very tough diseases, and to see the benefit from these initiatives, would be absolutely convinced.”
Though the fight is going well, it is not an easy one. Conflicts in certain countries can make treatment distribution difficult, and some diseases are harder to treat than others. However, as this new effort has already made a lot of progress, scientists believe many tropical diseases could be eradicated within the next few decades.
“By 2030, (neglected tropical) diseases could be part of history,” said Dr. Dirk Engels, director of the WHO Neglected Tropical Diseases department, according to CNN. “In general, I can say there is a lot of progress that is being made.”