According to the World Health Organization (WHO) experts, concerted efforts, political will and commitment is necessary for complete eradication of the five neglected tropical diseases from South East Asia in the next five-ten years.
WHO has identified five tropical diseases - leprosy, lymphatic filariasis (LF), visceral leishmaniasis (kala azar), soil transmitted helminths (STH) and yaws (contagious non-venereal infection) - as priority diseases, which are amenable to elimination or eradication.
A high-level meeting of policy makers, national and international agencies supporting health programmes, non-governmental organizations and private sector, experts and senior officials from WHO took place in Bangalore on 17-18 November 2005 to review the current status and strategies for these diseases.
The meeting aims at sensitizing policy makers, national and international donor community, non-governmental agencies and private sector to the magnitude of these diseases and promotes the need and benefits of elimination/eradication of these diseases from the region.
According to WHO estimates, around one billion people living in the developing world fall victims to at least one of these diseases. While these diseases are generally not fatal, they result in high morbidity rates, and those affected are victims of stigma, discrimination and human rights abuses. The combined disability adjusted life years (DALYs) lost to these diseases is over 11 million per year, WHO stated.
WHO records show that over 70 % of the global leprosy cases, 50 % of the persons globally affected by clinical LF, 35 % of the global STH infections and 20 % of the globally estimated kala azar cases are in the developing countries.
The region also accounts for a high rate of STH infections and three countries have yaws endemic areas - India, Indonesia and Timor Leste. India has the highest disease burden in the case of leprosy, lymphatic filariasis and kala azar.
Experts feel that these 'neglected' tropical diseases are poverty-related and primarily affect the poor and vulnerable groups like women, children and the most marginalized of populations.
Each of the identified diseases is amenable to safe, simple and cost-effective interventions, which are operationally feasible to implement. The endemic countries also have the required infrastructure and human resources to deliver necessary interventions and have national programmes for each of the diseases.
However, they have generally been neglected because of inadequate policy support, non-priority accorded in research and development and ineffective implementation of available interventions in coverage and quality, and thus additional support and resources are needed. WHO has developed strategies for each of the diseases.