Unprecedented Progress Against Neglected Tropical Diseases

Tropical diseases are disease which are unique to tropical or subtropical regions. Due to global warming and international travel they are increasinly seen throughout the world.

The WHO reports remarkable achievements in combating NTD’s (neglected tropical diseases) in the past decade. The progress has been record breaking, 1 billion people received treatment in 2015 alone, mainly thanks to developments in modern public and global health programmes. This includes initiatives such a the WHO NTD roadmap in 2012.

Key achievements include:

  • 1 billion people treated for at least one neglected tropical disease in 2015 alone.
  • 556 million people received preventive treatment for lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).
  • More than 114 million people received treatment for onchocerciasis (river blindness: 62% of those requiring it.
  • Only 25 human cases of Guinea-worm disease were reported in 2016, putting eradication within reach.
  • Cases of human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) have been reduced from 37 000 new cases in 1999 to well under 3000 cases in 2015.
  • Trachoma – the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness – has been eliminated as a public health problem in Mexico, Morocco, and Oman. More than 185 000 trachoma patients had surgery for trichiasis worldwide and more than 56 million people received antibiotics in 2015 alone.
  • Visceral leishmaniasis: in 2015 the target for elimination was achieved in 82% of sub-districts in India, 97% of sub-districts in Bangladesh, and in 100% of districts in Nepal.
  • Only 12 reported human deaths were attributable to rabies in the WHO Region of the Americas in 2015, bringing the region close to its target of eliminating rabies in humans by 2015.

You may be thinking what does physiotherapy have to do with tropical diseases?

With this progress made in the past decade has been a huge reduction in fatality however the NTDs can still blind, maim, disfigure and debilitate people in the poorest parts of the world. Although survival is more likely, the lasting effects of these disease is felt by the most vulnerable for the remainder of their lives.

That’s not to say during the acute phases of these disease’s physiotherapy cannot help. One common complication of tropical diseases, as well as prolonged illness, are respiratory complications. This is a particular area physiotherapy can have a profound effect. At the Royal Free Hospital in London physiotherapists are part of a small team who have been trained to help treat highly infectious diseases because of this reason.

Once cured people will likely need rehabilitation which may be physical, pain or function related. It could even include amputee rehabilitation, those with Mycetoma and Malaria for example may need limbs amputated after protracted infection or complications. This is a well known area physiotherapy is essential and services may not exist or be developed in the areas of the world most needed.

Many of our colleagues around the world work in areas which suffer from NTDs and it is essential that they are aware of the symptoms of the diseases. They may masquerade as musculoskeletal or rhematological conditions initially which prevents timely signposting. Timely treatment is paramount in many of these diseases.

With improvements in medical management it is essential that we keep progressing rehabilitation services around the world to keep up with the increasing survival rates of NTDs.

Do you work with patients who have tropical diseases? We’d love to hear from you.

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