60-Second Science

Beating Neglected Tropical Diseases

Malaria gets headlines, but a host of lesser known tropical diseases are also a burden to a billion people around the world. Creative treatments in some places are finally fighting these conditions. Cynthia Graber reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.

We’ve all heard of the fight to combat malaria in mostly poor, tropical countries. But a whole host of other tropical diseases exist that leave their victims alive, but maimed. One is lymphatic filariasis, also know as elephantiasis. It causes limbs or sexual organs to become grossly enlarged. People can’t work or feed their families and often become social outcasts. Another one is called trachoma, or river blindness. A range of these so-called neglected tropical diseases affect about one billion people in the world.

But there’s some good news. Efforts by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and other agencies have nearly eliminated those two diseases in some developing countries. For lymphatic filariasis, patients receive a drug treatment for five years. This is known as preventative chemotherapy, and it effectively kills the parasite. In the case of trachoma, surgery and drug therapy are combined with improved access to sanitation. Morocco announced that trachoma has nearly disappeared there. These are success stories, but there’s much more to be done. Researchers are working on expanding these programs and on developing vaccines and treatments to eliminate neglected tropical diseases worldwide.

—Cynthia Graber

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