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The Eradication of Neglected Tropical Diseases
Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
Imagine a disease type so widespread that nearly 150 countries today have to deal with it. Imagine that this disease infects every single low-income country, and over a billion people. An infection that is best removed with a matchstick wrapped around a worm emerging from your leg. A disease that disables the most vulnerable. A parasite that enters your body through the skin while swimming. Finally, imagine the situation is so dire these diseases are given the title “neglected”. This is the reality of neglected tropical diseases.
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a set of infections that affect a substantial portion of the human population, especially those in low-income countries (CDC, 2017). Contributing factors to the prevalence of these diseases include poor sanitation and contact with disease vectors (WHO, 2017). Perhaps the most famous NTDs are rabies, dengue, and leprosy, however, other diseases are also entering the spotlight. For example, a North Korean soldier in the Panmunjom border village recently defected to South Korea (Japan Times, 2017). The soldier was shot by his former comrades while escaping, resulting in a need for immediate medical attention. Doctors found that the soldier was riddled with parasitic worms in his gastrointestinal tract, with one reaching 27 cm in length. The hypothesized cause of this infection is that the soldier, like many other North Koreans, consumed produce fertilized with human feces, or night soil. The produce became contaminated with parasites through this night soil, which eventually infected the soldier upon consumption. This type of parasitism is common to countries without access to a more efficient fertilizer, and the parasites transmitted in this fashion are referred to as soil transmitted helminths.
Another interesting NTD is Dracunculus medinensis, or the Guinea worm. The Guinea worm is a parasite endemic to parts of Africa (CDC, 2017). It is spread by consumption of contaminated water. This water contains water fleas, which are the Guinea worm’s vector. When a human consumes a water flea, the Guinea worm larva leave the flea and enter the digestive tract. Female larvae will develop, and can reach 100 cm in length. Eventually, the worm will migrate to the skin, resulting in a blister on the point of contact (often on the legs or feet). The worm leaves the blister and secretes more larvae, continuing its life cycle. To hasten the worm’s removal, people often wrap it around a matchstick or other small object as it emerges a few centimeters a day. But there is good news: thanks to international efforts, Guinea worm disease is becoming much less prevalent. In 1986 there were about 3.5 million cases of the disease; in 2016, there were 25 (CDC, 2017). Guinea worm disease will likely be eradicated in the near future thanks to recent efforts to fight the disease.
Although NTDs are debilitating and deadly to those unfortunate enough to experience infection, they are certainly being fought against. Guinea worm disease is just one example of how a disease affecting millions of people can be counteracted and stopped in its tracks, but there are others as well. Lymphatic filariasis is an NTD caused by the Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and Brugia timori nematodes in the Filariodidea family (WHO, 2017). Commonly referred to as elephantiasis, Lymphatic filariasis infects humans through its vector, mosquitoes. Lymphatic filariasis is a disease of the lymphatic system characterized by lymphoedema. Lymphoedema is swelling as a result of fluid accumulation in the tissues, caused by impaired lymphatic system drainage and function (Szuba and Rockson, 1998). Due to an international program aimed at the elimination of lymphatic filariasis, the rate of infection of this debilitating disease has decreased 70% since 2000 (CDC, 2017).
The success of programs aimed at both Guinea worm disease and lymphatic filariasis highlights the potential to exterminate other NTDs. Over 1.5 billion treatments, as well as over $11 billion in pharmaceutical donations, have been distributed and utilized to fight NTDs (CDC, 2017). Progress against other NTDs such as onchocerciasis, soil-transmitted helminths, trachoma, and schistosomiasis is being made, and we may soon see the untold damage these diseases cause come to a close.
CDC. (2017, April 19). Neglected Tropical Diseases. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/ntd/
CDC. (2017, September 27). Parasites. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/index.html
Japan Times. (2017, November 17). North Korean soldier stable, but riddled with parasites. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/11/17/asia-pacific/north-korean-soldier-stable-riddled-parasites/#.WiyteiOZNTY
Szuba, A., & Rockson, S. G. (1998). Lymphedema: classification, diagnosis and therapy. Vascular medicine, 3(2), 145-156.
WHO. (2017). Neglected tropical diseases. Retrieved December 09, 2017, from http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/diseases/en/
WHO. (2017, October). Lymphatic filariasis. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs102/en/
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Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.