Neglected Tropical Disease Control Program Demonstrates Success in its First Three Years

An analysis of the first three years of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Control Program has documented the outcome of efforts to implement national-scale programs to control or eliminate NTDs through public-private partnerships. The program, targeting lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis (ascariasis, hookworm and trichuriasis) and blinding trachoma through mass drug administration, has reached 98 million persons in 12 countries with 222 million treatments of donated drugs valued at more than $1.4 billion. In addition, 220,000 persons were trained to implement these programs locally, according to a report released in the January issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The USAID-funded NTD Control Program relies on public-private partnerships to bring together public health implementers, public and private donors, and key pharmaceutical firms (GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Co., Inc., Merck-Serono and Pfizer) in an effort to rid the world of treatable NTDs. The NTD Control Program works in concert with World Health Organization guidelines to facilitate national Ministry of Health programs that support, organize, implement and monitor integrated programs targeting seven NTDs through preventative chemotherapy given once or twice a year.

"We are very excited about the results and are thrilled that we are learning how to expand effective, cost-efficient strategies to a national level in countries burdened by NTDs," says lead author Mary Linehan, operations director of the Neglected Tropical Disease Control Program, RTI International. "The results are a tribute to the hard work of the national Ministries of Health, USAID and our pharmaceutical partners who have recognized that scaling to a national level is critical to break transmission of the NTDs."

NTDs are a group of conditions afflicting more than 1 billion of the poorest, most disenfranchised persons worldwide causing significant morbidity, mortality, severe disfigurement, disability and blindness. Integrated efforts often received minimal attention prior to the recent USAID-led funding initiatives. NTDs are among the leading perpetrators of poverty because they diminish economic productivity and impair intellectual and physical development of persons in affected nations thereby reinforcing a cycle of poverty and illness.

"2010 saw an extraordinary increase in mass drug administrations for NTDs, showing that nationally-scaled programs are successful," says Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. "Millions of persons received the treatments necessary to improve health and economies across the world. With plans to further increase the number of countries targeted that have national control programs, 2011 should be a banner year for the control and elimination of NTDs, which unnecessarily affect millions of persons every year."

The USAID NTD Control Program, initiated in September 2006, defined five-year targets of 160 million preventive chemotherapy treatments to 40 million people in 15 countries through integrated NTD programs. The stated aims of the program have been 1) to support and empower national governments to develop integrated NTD control programs embedded, where possible, within existing service delivery platforms and to lead these programs in scaling-up activities to full national levels; 2) to provide technical assistance for planning, budgeting, reporting and complying with international standards and guidelines to improve program integration; 3) to promote cost-efficiency, improved integration strategies and effective advocacy; and 4) to assure national ownership, continued commitment and resource mobilization for sustained support for NTD control.

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