Amid WHO praise for tackling tropical disease, concern over rise in leprosy

Written by Abantika Ghosh
| Geneva |
Published:April 20, 2017 3:06 am

Among the 18 NTDs the ones that are of concern to India apart from Yaws and leprosy are dengue, chikungunya and viral leishmaniasis. (File)

While India earned an honourable mention in a new WHO report on neglected tropical diseases (NTD), it is also one of the handful of countries around the world that have shown an increase in leprosy cases. The number of leprosy cases in India went up from 1,25,785 to 1,27,326 between 2014 and 2015.

The report, which was released on the occasion of the second WHO partners meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), also talked about the fact that India was certified free of Yaws in 2015. Yaws is a debilitating childhood infection that affected 46,000 people from 8 countries in 2015. This is the fourth NTD report.

The meeting is being attended by ministers, Pharmaceutical companies and charitable organisations from across the world to make new commitments on ending NTDS — 18 as defined by WHO — on the occasion of five years of the London Declaration where partners came together to sign a commitment to end ten of these diseases that affect India and Africa. According to WHO estimates, one in six people suffer from NTDs worldwide including more than half a billion children.

Among the 18 NTDs the ones that are of concern to India apart from Yaws and leprosy are dengue, chikungunya and viral leishmaniasis. India’s efforts to eradicate viral leishmaniasis, commonly known as kala azar, have also been commended in the new report — since 2008 VL cases in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have come down by 82%, the report notes, crediting “improvement in vector control, social mobilisation of village volunteers, collaboration with other NTD programmes and drug donations from industry partners.”

In fact in January this year, a new Guinness world record was created for the highest number of drug doses donated in 24 hours.

The WHO target for VL elimination is 2020 but India has set its sights on eliminating it by the end of this year, a roadmap laid down both in the budget speech and the recently unveiled National Health Policy. It is an ambitious target, says Dr Dirk Engels director of the department o control of NTDs, at. WHO. “But there is nothing wrong with ambitious targets,” he is quick to add. There was no ministerial participation from India at the partners meeting with officials of the Directorate General of Health Services representing the Indian health ministry.

At the partners meet new resource commitments were made, with the United Kingdom announcing additional $205 million and Bill Gates announcing another $330 million. The Belgian government also pledged an additional $27 million.

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