IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

How Travellers Can Help End 7 Neglected Tropical Diseases

Photo – Children getting medication to prevent NTDs in India.
Photo by Esther Havens.

Guest post by Caitlin Garlow, Communications Associate, Sabin Vaccine Institute. Sabin is a non-profit organization working to eliminate neglected tropical diseases through innovative vaccine research and development, and advocating for improved access to vaccines and essential medicines for citizens around the globe.

For health-conscious individuals planning to visit other countries, there’s a pre-travel checklist:

  • Visit the travel clinic, check
  • Catch up on necessary immunizations, check
  • Research medical insurance, check

But even the savviest travellers may not know about all the diseases that are native to the countries they visit, how to avoid them or how they can help those affected by particularly devastating diseases that most people have never heard of.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of diseases that are largely unknown to many people. Travellers probably won’t find pamphlets about them in travel clinics and they may not be on the recommended shot list either. But these bacterial and parasitic infections are very common in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The seven most common NTDs – ascariasis (roundworm), hookworm, lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis, trachoma and trichuriasis (whipworm) – impact one in six people worldwide, including 500 million children. The symptoms are different for each disease and can include rashes, nausea and vomiting, fever and loss of blood. Left untreated, these diseases can eventually lead to blindness, huge swelling of the limbs, severe malnutrition and anemia. These long-lasting effects help to perpetuate poverty by preventing parents from working and keeping kids out of school.

NTDs can be transmitted through insect bites, contact with contaminated food, water or soil and direct human contact. Cautious travellers visiting endemic countries can take steps to avoid contracting these diseases (for a specific list of prevention tips related to the NTD schistosomiasis, visit this post on End the Neglect by IAMAT president Assunta Uffer-Marcolongo), but should also consider how they can be a part of the solution to the global health problems created by NTDs.

And the solution is simple. A rapid-impact package that contains four pills can treat and prevent all seven NTDs. Pharmaceutical companies donate a majority of the pills, so the costs are limited to distributing the medicine and setting up treatment programs that communities can run themselves. As a result, the total cost of treating and preventing seven NTDs is only 50 cents per person per year.

That’s why this year the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases launched END7 , an international advocacy campaign that encourages people to learn more about NTDs and take action to help those who are affected. To show your support for ending seven NTDs, we’d like to invite you to visit our web site, www.end7.org, join our Facebook or Twitter, and consider donating 50 cents to give one person the chance to live a healthy and productive life.
Travellers interested in learning more about the causes, symptoms and treatments for NTDs can also take a look at the series of interactive fact sheets on the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases web site.

Travellers have the opportunity to do more than just see the sights when they visit new places. Becoming knowledgeable about important health issues in the countries they visit and advocating for those with tangible solutions can help people connect with the cultures they visit. Don’t forget next time you’re planning a trip to add learning about NTDs to your travel checklist.