We all know about the good ol’ typhoid, malaria and cholera. All of these are tropical diseases that are devastating in areas where they are most prevalent. What if I was to mention: Chagas’ Disease, Sleeping sickness, Dengue fever and or leishmaniasis. Does your mind draw a huge blank at the mention of these ailments? I do not blame you, for not enough fanfare and information about these diseases have been handed out to the “big bad world”. Sure we know all about malaria, you know, the disease involving mosquito bites that the famous ex-wife of Ashley Cole contracted back in 2010. Oh how the world was in such disarray when “someone of relevance” was found to have malaria. But up until that time, was malaria being given a second look? I’ll leave you to ponder on that for a moment.
Malaria has been established as being an issue for several centuries with so many lives taken before their time. But how come “malaria” only seemed most relevant when the individual to the right contracted it? If the child to the left has malaria, would you care to help?
Without speculating, one could assume that the renewed motivation and vigour in treating malaria could be seen as a consequence of Cheryl Cole contracting it. Nonetheless this has come with some positive points. For instance, from 2000 to 2015 had the mortality rate dropped up to 60%, highlighting a sense of “taming an ancient disease” that has already claimed so many untold lives.
Whilst cholera is often seen as a pandemic in developing countries, the rapid investment in antibiotics and oral rehydration solutions has diminished its presence in more developed countries. Nevertheless, this should not make us narrow-minded against caring and or being considerate about the several million people affected by this water-borne disease annually.
So, from these two previous points, we could be right in giving each other pats on the back and feeling like we have accomplished monumental feats to be jubilant over. However, we are on the tip of the proverbial iceberg, increased efforts must be made to improve awareness and response to the lesser known diseases: Sleeping sickness, Chagas’ Disease and Leishmaniasis are just to name a few.
Though the perspectives on these neglected diseases have not been as widely expanded as with: typhoid, cholera and malaria, some strides have been taken. This is partly due to organisations like MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) and the DNDi (Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative) dedicated to treating these diseases.
One of the more impacting of these disease is Sleeping Sickness, caused by the tsetse fly. This parasitic disease has been established to put up to 65 million people at risk. However, this disease is not often given as much profile as some of the more known diseases. Part of this is due to the geographic prevalence of Sleeping Sickness; it’s based in sub-Saharan Africa in its two known forms Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense.
Cases of sleeping sickness relate highly to countries of low economic development, including: Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and also Uganda. Thus, there would not be much financial gain in investing in the development of drugs against sleeping sickness. It has been over 60 years since the discovery of melarsoprol as a treatment against sleeping sickness. Whilst the evidence highlighting its toxic effects have led to its usage only in second stage T.b.rhodesiense infection, the lack of alternatives in this case is still a major issue to overcome.
This had led to MSF being the forefront in providing treatment, like the Nifurtimox-Eflornithine-Combination Therapy (NECT) and Suramin in these less developing countries. Still, refined options with lesser side-effects should be looked at so less people like the fellow below have to suffer.
Sudan, Ibba, Yei County, Equatoria
A young man called John, suffering from second-stage sleeping sickness, is held firmly by his sister whilst doctors try to apply an intravenous drip for treatment.
Image taken by Sven Torfinn
I conclude this post by encouraging you all to think long and hard about this situation lying here before us. Millions of people are dying every day due to lack of treatment and care towards these neglected diseases. We cannot any longer stand idly by and allow this to continue, let us turn the NEGLECTED into RESPECTED.