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Focus: GS-III Science and technology


  • Disease outbreaks usually result in single-minded efforts to stem the tide, distracting from other public health issues in the process. For example, the 2016 Ebola outbreak resulted in the loss of an additional 10,600 West African lives due to HIV, TB and malaria.
  • Now, as health services, resources and attention are diverted to the fight against Covid-19, experts have warned that the pandemic will indirectly have catastrophic effect when it comes to programmes to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)

  • Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)– a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries – affect more than one billion people and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year.
  • Populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals and livestock are those worst affected.
  • Seven of the most common NTDs can be found in a number of countries—primarily in low- and middle-income countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Controlling the vectors (e.g., mosquitoes, black flies) that transmit these diseases and improving basic water, sanitation, and hygiene are highly effective strategies against these NTDs.

The Crisis

  • NTDs such as dengue, lymphatic filariasis and visceral leishmaniasis (Kala-Azar) afflict 1 billion people worldwide, and yet, are not prioritised in the public health narrative in many parts of the world.
  • India bears the largest burden of NTDs in the world, accounting for 40 per cent of the global lymphatic filariasis disease burden and almost a quarter of the world’s visceral leishmaniasis cases.

Government’s efforts

  • In recent years, the government has made concerted efforts to address the nation’s NTD burden, especially visceral leishmaniasis and lymphatic filariasis which were slated to be eliminated by 2020 and 2021 respectively.
  • Measures taken include Mass Drug Administration (MDA) for lymphatic filariasis prevention in endemic districts and Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) to control the breeding of sandflies that transmit visceral leishmaniasis.
  • However, the onset of the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns have led to the postponement of activities crucial to achieving the target.


  • In the current situation, we must adapt, integrate, optimise and accelerate existing strategies.
  • Most importantly, we need to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission by equipping field staff with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), handwashing stations and training to ensure social distancing during field activities.
  • In NTD endemic districts, interventions to eliminate NTDs, malaria and HIV are often aimed at the same target population, thus, the limited programmatic and financial resources must be optimised to deliver healthcare services in an integrated manner.
  • Greater flexibility in decision-making at the district level would allow for refining the integrated approach based on available resources, disease profiles and the unique needs of a community.
  • Another approach would be to leverage technological solutions like how telemedicine consultations are being made available to people suffering from NTDs in areas that are hard to reach.
  • The World Health Organisations new roadmap on NTDs espouses a people-centric approach — it is based on the principles of partnership and strengthening the health system.

-Source: Indian Express

June 2024