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Neglected tropical diseases: PAHO calls for an end to delays in treatment in the Americas

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Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2022. 10:31 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has encouraged governments to comprehensive and universal care for the millions of people affected by so-called “neglected tropical diseases” as leprosy, dengue, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, dog-mediated human rabies, scabies, Chagas disease, intestinal parasites, and trachoma.

January 30 is observed as World Day for Neglected Tropical Diseases, with more than 20 such pathologies present in the region – where they are also known as neglected infectious diseases – afflicting more than 200 million people at risk. This year’s theme is “Achieving health equity to end the neglect of poverty-related diseases.”

“Preventing and treating these diseases is cost-effective. Strategies to combat them include bringing prevention, diagnosis, and treatment closer to vulnerable communities, as well as improving their living conditions, such as access to education, drinking water, basic sanitation, and housing,” said Marcos Espinal, PAHO’s director of Communicable Diseases and Environmental Determinants of Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted interventions and elimination programs for these diseases in the Americas, such as mass medicine administration campaigns, surveys, and active case tracing. These were mostly canceled in 2020 and gradually resumed in 2021. PAHO warns that these interruptions may delay the elimination or control of some of these diseases beyond the timelines proposed pre-pandemic.

PAHO has been supporting countries to strengthen the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of programs to control and eliminate such diseases through technical cooperation, the development of guidelines and training, as well as through the donation of medicines and other medical tools such as diagnostic tests.

The Organization is also pursuing a new initiative to eliminate some 30 infectious diseases and related conditions by 2030.

With the support of PAHO, WHO, and other partners, the region has achieved several milestones against neglected tropical diseases. In 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world to eliminate onchocerciasis, a parasitic disease that can lead to blindness. Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico followed shortly, and currently, there is only one remaining focus of onchocerciasis at the regional level on the border between Brazil and Venezuela.

Costa Rica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago already put an end to lymphatic filariasis, known as elephantiasis because of its characteristic thickening of the limbs. Brazil, Guyana, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic are moving towards the elimination of the disease.

Mexico has put an end to dog-mediated human rabies and trachoma as a public health problem. Guatemala is on the verge of eliminating trachoma, and several Caribbean countries are expected to see the elimination of schistosomiasis, an infection caused by parasitic worms, in the coming years.

Currently, in Latin America and the Caribbean, 59 million children live in areas at risk of infection or reinfection by geohelminths or intestinal parasites, and approximately 5.7 million people are infected with Chagas disease, with some 70 million at risk of contracting it.

In addition, nearly 68,000 new cases of visceral leishmaniasis were reported between 2001 and 2020 in 13 countries in the Americas, and more than 39,700 cases of cutaneous and mucosal leishmaniasis were reported in 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. While visceral leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite and is fatal in more than 95 percent of cases, cutaneous leishmaniasis causes ulceration and results in the partial or complete destruction of the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and throat.

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