World must tackle neglected diseases to end hunger

Wed Feb 11, 2015 1:53pm EST
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By Alex Whiting

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Attempts to end global hunger and improve education are being hampered by a little known group of diseases that affect the world's poorest and must be tackled too, the head of a body pushing for the elimination of such diseases said.

The 17 diseases infect about 1 billion people living in rural communities in the poorest parts of the world. They include sleeping sickness, yaws, dengue fever, river blindness, Chagas disease and intestinal worms.

"You can spend a lot of resources distributing protein supplements or vitamins, but in the end if you're administering them to people infested with worms then that supplement is just being eaten by the worms," Marianne Comparet, director of the London-based International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases, said in an interview.

"There is a huge overlap in the populations that are the most hungry and at the same time are the most unhealthy, so it makes sense to bridge them both at the same time," she added.

Intestinal worms are spread through human faeces in areas with poor sanitation, and affect more than 880 million children, according to the World Health Organization.

Like most of this group of diseases, intestinal worms are not usually deadly but they affect people throughout their life.

They strike in early childhood, affecting first children's education and later their productivity. Some people with leprosy or elephantiasis, which can severely disfigure the body, may become socially ostracized and be unable to marry.

"They may not be fatal, but they do carry a massive cost in terms of human welfare and economic burden to those parts of society," Comparet said.   Continued...