Diseases affecting the poorest can be eliminated, scientists say

Thu Feb 19, 2015 10:29am EST
 
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By Alex Whiting

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It is a little known disease but it could make medical history if scientists' predictions are correct: yaws could completely disappear by 2020, given the right resources.

The only disease ever to have been eradicated is the deadly smallpox. Guinea worm is nearly there, and polio too could be added to the list.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged developing countries to invest more in tackling so-called neglected tropical diseases such as yaws, saying more investment would alleviate human misery and free people trapped in poverty.

Yaws affects mainly children and causes unsightly skin ulcers and painful bone infections that can make walking difficult. In some rare cases it can eat away people's noses.

At least 50 million people were affected by the bacterial infection in the 1950s. When the WHO launched mass treatment campaigns with penicillin vaccines, the number of cases plummeted by 95 percent by the end of the 1960s, according to David Mabey, an expert in yaws and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"But then it fell off the agenda. And we're trying to put it back on," Mabey said in an interview.

Yaws is known to be prevalent in 12 countries in areas where people have little access to healthcare, mainly in West and Central Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.

It should be easy to eradicate, because scientists have found that a single dose of the relatively cheap drug azithromycin, given orally, is as effective as the penicillin injections of old, Mabey said.   Continued...