Category Archives: NTDs

Malaria News Today 2020-09-28/29: media involvement, NGOs, monitoring and research

A variety of malaria and related issues have arisen over the past two days. A media coalition for malaria elimination formed in Ghana. A Nigerian NGO stresses the importance of addressing malaria on Nigeria’s 60th Independence Day (October 1). An innovative technology foundation is supporting various malaria and NTD treatment and diagnostic research efforts. Click on links below to read the details.

Media Coalition for malaria control and elimination launched

A Media Coalition comprising of selected journalists and editors, has been launched in Ghana under the umbrella of the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” campaign to eliminate malaria by 2030. The Coalition, which aimed to enhance the quality and quantity of malaria coverage, and support broader advocacy efforts, was launched at a workshop in Accra organized by the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), in collaboration with the African Media and Malaria Research Network and Speak Up Africa, an advocacy and communication Organisation based in Senegal.

The workshop brought together media personnel from across the regions, who nominated their Regional Executives, with two National Co-Chairpersons coming from Greater Accra. The Members of the Coalition, made a firm declaration of their commitment towards the elimination of malaria in Ghana by the year 2030, by championing the fight, taking responsibility for their roles through proactive, regular, accurate, and high-quality media output of news on malaria.

Chinwe Chibuike Foundation Set To Flag-off Full Scale Malaria Eradication Program On Independence Day

A Nigeria indigenous and international non-governmental organization, envisioned to create a conducive environment towards the accessibility of healthcare facilities and improved educational opportunities, has joined the fight against the bizzare challenges of Malaria. The renowned Nigeria-USA humanitarian organization, Chinwe Chibuike Foundation is collaborating with other organizations to flagoff a full scale malaria eradication exercise tagged “Nigeria at 60 Malaria Eradication Project”, on the 1st of October 2020.

According to the founder and President of Chinwe Chibuike Foundation, Ms Gloria Chibuike, during an interview session with Pulse TV few days ago, she noted the forthcoming Nigeria At 60 Malaria Eradication Program will be different and of more impact, especially with the full scale approach and introduction a new Malaria repellant Band.

While emphasizing on the extensive features of the project, Ms Gloria described Malaria as one of the biggest problems in Africa at the moment, considering the increased number of recorded deaths and infection. She narrated that the discovery of the new malaria repellent band was timely and off-course very efficient, especially with testimonies from few persons who have already tried the brand.

Drugs and Diagnostics: Malaria and NTDs

The Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund announced today a total of 1.37 billion yen (US$13 million*) to invest in seven partnerships to develop new lifesaving drugs and diagnostics for malaria, Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminths (STH). This includes three newly funded projects and four that will receive continued funding. The RBM Partnership is planning on how to monitor and provide technical support for ITN programs. Click the links within each section to read details.

As of September 29, GHIT’s portfolio includes 50 ongoing projects: 26 discovery projects, 16 preclinical projects and eight clinical trials (Appendix 3). The total amount of investments since 2013 is 22.3 billion yen (US$211 million).

Support the Improvement of Operational Efficiency of ITN Campaigns

The Alliance for Malaria Prevention (AMP) is a workstream within the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. With malaria indicators stagnating and intense pressure to improve access and use of effective ITNs, WHO has renewed focus on stratifying vector control strategies in countries. Along with the introduction of new, more expensive ITNs, countries are now challenged to determine where they should deploy different ITN types to manage insecticide resistance within limited funding envelopes, as well as to identify more efficient ways to implement mass ITN distribution.

Countries that have accessed AMP technical assistance have significantly improved their capacity to modify and update strategies and tools to increase ITN access, use and accountability. They have also continued to identify further gaps and look for effective ways to address them. Now AMP planning to support update and finalization of ITN tracking tool, aligned with priorities across major partners (GF, PMI, RBM).


Malaria News Today 2020-09-15

Malaria Journal released three articles ranging from the relation between malaria and agricultural irrigation, artemisinin resistance on the Myanmar-China border, and efforts at costing malaria elimination interventions. PLoS Medicine examined the quality of malaria clinical management in children. Finally, Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology reported on a new drug against malaria and toxoplasmosis. Click on links to read more details.

Minimal tillage and intermittent flooding farming systems show a potential reduction in the proliferation of Anopheles mosquito larvae in a rice field in Malanville, Northern Benin

Irrigation systems have been identified as one of the factors promoting malaria disease around agricultural farms in sub-Saharan Africa. However, if improved water management strategy is adopted during rice cultivation, it may help to reduce malaria cases among human population living around rice fields.

A clear reduction of larva density was observed with both intermittent flooding systems applied to minimal tillage (MT?+?IF?+?NL) and intermittent flooding applied to deep tillage (DT?+?IF?+?AL), showing that intermittent flooding could reduce the abundance of malaria vector in rice fields. Recommending intermittent flooding technology for rice cultivation may not only be useful for water management but could also be an intentional strategy to control mosquitoes vector-borne diseases around rice farms.

No evidence of amplified Plasmodium falciparum plasmepsin II gene copy number in an area with artemisinin-resistant malaria along the China–Myanmar border

The emergence and spread of artemisinin resistance in Plasmodium falciparum poses a threat to malaria eradication, including China’s plan to eliminate malaria by 2020. Piperaquine (PPQ) resistance has emerged in Cambodia, compromising an important partner drug that is widely used in China in the form of dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-PPQ. Several mutations in a P. falciparum gene encoding a kelch protein on chromosome 13 (k13) are associated with artemisinin resistance and have arisen spread in the Great Mekong subregion, including the China–Myanmar border. Multiple copies of the plasmepsin II/III (pm2/3) genes, located on chromosome 14, have been shown to be associated with PPQ resistance.

DHA-PPQ for uncomplicated P. falciparum infection still showed efficacy in an area with artemisinin-resistant malaria along the China–Myanmar border. There was no evidence to show PPQ resistance by clinical study and molecular markers survey. Continued monitoring of the parasite population using molecular markers will be important to track emergence and spread of resistance in this region.

Costing malaria interventions from pilots to elimination programmes

Malaria programmes in countries with low transmission levels require evidence to optimize deployment of current and new tools to reach elimination with limited resources. Recent pilots of elimination strategies in Ethiopia, Senegal, and Zambia produced evidence of their epidemiological impacts and costs. There is a need to generalize these findings to different epidemiological and health systems contexts. Drawing on experience of implementing partners, operational documents and costing studies from these pilots, reference scenarios were defined for rapid reporting (RR), reactive case detection (RACD), mass drug administration (MDA), and in-door residual spraying (IRS). These generalized interventions from their trial implementation to one typical of programmatic delivery. In doing so, resource use due to interventions was isolated from research activities and was related to the pilot setting. Costing models developed around this reference implementation, standardized the scope of resources costed, the valuation of resource use, and the setting in which interventions were evaluated. Sensitivity analyses were used to inform generalizability of the estimates and model assumptions.

Populated with local prices and resource use from the pilots, the models yielded an average annual economic cost per capita of $0.18 for RR, $0.75 for RACD, $4.28 for MDA (two rounds), and $1.79 for IRS (one round, 50% households). Intervention design and resource use at service delivery were key drivers of variation in costs of RR, MDA, and RACD. Scale was the most important parameter for IRS. Overall price level was a minor contributor, except for MDA where drugs accounted for 70% of the cost. The analyses showed that at implementation scales comparable to health facility catchment area, systematic correlations between model inputs characterizing implementation and setting produce large gradients in costs. Prospective costing models are powerful tools to explore resource and cost implications of policy alternatives. By formalizing translation of operational data into an estimate of intervention cost, these models provide the methodological infrastructure to strengthen capacity gap for economic evaluation in endemic countries. The value of this approach for decision-making is enhanced when primary cost data collection is designed to enable analysis of the efficiency of operational inputs in relation to features of the trial or the setting, thus facilitating transferability.

Quality of clinical management of children diagnosed with malaria: A cross-sectional assessment in 9 sub-Saharan African countries between 2007–2018

Appropriate clinical management of malaria in children is critical for preventing progression to severe disease and for reducing the continued high burden of malaria mortality. This study aimed to assess the quality of care provided to children under 5 diagnosed with malaria across 9 sub-Saharan African countries. We used data from the Service Provision Assessment (SPA) survey. SPAs are nationally representative facility surveys capturing quality of sick-child care, facility readiness, and provider and patient characteristics across 9 countries, including Uganda (2007), Rwanda (2007), Namibia (2009), Kenya (2010), Malawi (2013), Senegal (2013–2017), Ethiopia (2014), Tanzania (2015), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (2018).

In this study, we found that a majority of children diagnosed with malaria across the 9 surveyed sub-Saharan African countries did not receive recommended care. Clinical management is positively correlated with the stocking of essential commodities and is somewhat improved in more recent years, but important quality gaps remain in the countries studied. Continued reductions in malaria mortality will require a bigger push toward quality improvements in clinical care. Despite increases in the distribution of malaria tests and effective antimalarial medications, significant gaps in the quality of care for pediatric malaria are present in these 9 countries. Further improvements in quality of malaria care may require a better understanding of remaining barriers and facilitators to appropriate management.

Novel drug could be a powerful weapon in the fight against malaria and toxoplasmosis

Princeton researchers are making key contributions toward developing a promising new treatment for the widespread and devastating diseases toxoplasmosis and malaria.
The Princeton scientists specialize in preparing the drug compound into a medicine that is both safe and effective for humans and able to reach its intended sites of action in the body in sufficient doses. An international team of scientists found the new drug—designated JAG21—to be highly effective against parasites in cell-based studies in the lab. After the discovery, team representatives contacted Princeton’s Robert Prud’homme for help in translating the JAG21 compound into a deliverable medication. Prud’homme is a co-author of a study, published in June 2020 in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, that describes the compound and its excellent preliminary results in mice.

Malaria News Today 2020-09-08

Today we share news and abstracts concerning detecting malaria in pregnancy, news about the opening remarks from the WHO Director General at a special malaria and COVID-19 webinar, resumption of NTD activities after COVID-19 restrictions reduced, and mapping of Ebola carrying bats whose territory overlaps malaria in Africa. Click on the links to read more.

Prevalence and clinical impact of malaria infections detected with a highly sensitive HRP2 rapid diagnostic test in Beninese pregnant women

While sub-microscopic malarial infections are frequent and potentially deleterious during pregnancy, routine molecular detection is still not feasible. This study aimed to assess the performance of a Histidine Rich Protein 2 (HRP2)-based ultrasensitive rapid diagnostic test (uRDT, Alere Malaria Ag Pf) for the detection of infections of low parasite density in pregnant women.

This study demonstrates the higher performance of uRDT, as compared to cRDTs, to detect low parasite density P. falciparum infections during pregnancy, particularly in the 1st trimester. uRDT allowed the detection of infections associated with maternal anaemia.

The distribution range of Ebola virus carriers in Africa may be larger than previously assumed

Since Ebola overlaps both symptomatically and geographically with malaria in Africa, it is “Worrying that science has hitherto underestimated the range of Ebola-transmitting bat and fruit bat species. In this case, the models would provide a more realistic picture,” explains Dr. Lisa Koch

Based on ecological niche modeling, his team was able to show that the respective bat and fruit bat species are able to thrive in West and East Africa, including large parts of Central Africa. A wide belt of potential habitats extends from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia in the west across the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Sudan and Uganda in the East. A few of the studied bats and fruit bats may even occur in the eastern part of South Africa.

WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks At the Webinar – Responding to the Double Challenge of Malaria and Covid-19

The WHO Director General is encouraged by efforts to maintain malaria services despite the COVID-19 outbreak, but says, “I would like to recognize and applaud all these efforts, and to thank all of you who have worked so hard to preserve and maintain those services to the greatest degree possible. However, despite these actions, it breaks my heart to report that we still expect to see an increase in cases and deaths from malaria.

“In a recent WHO survey of 105 countries, 46% of countries reported disruptions in malaria diagnosis and treatment. These disruptions threaten to set us back even further in realizing our shared vision for a malaria-free world.”

NTD Disease treatments restart in Africa as COVID-19 restrictions ease

It is not just malaria services that have been disrupted by COVID-19 responses. Treatment programmes that will reach millions of Africans at risk from debilitating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) have restarted in a significant step towards COVID-19 recovery. Around one million people in Jigawa state, Nigeria have received antibiotics to treat the blinding eye disease trachoma and stop it from spreading.

Nigeria is the first country that Sightsavers and partners has supported to resume work on NTDs, which can have a devastating impact on some of the poorest communities in the world, with other African countries due to follow soon. In April, the threat of COVID-19 led the World Health Organization to recommend suspending mass treatment campaigns, which treat and prevent these diseases, but it has since provided guidance on restarting activities safely.

Efforts to Eliminate Schistosomiasis in Nigeria, A Multifaceted Approach

As part of the activities in the course Social and Behavioral Foundations of Primary Health Care, class members write a blog on a current health issue. Amr Marawan has shared the context of schistosomiasis control in Nigeria on the class blog. His writing is reposted below and can also be read along with those of his classmates in the SBFPHC Blog site.

Schistosomiasis was described in papyrus papers thousands of years ago by ancient Egyptians. Then it was re-described by Theodore Bilharz, a pioneer parasitologist, 150 years ago in Cairo, Egypt. Schistosomiasis is among a group of neglected tropical diseases hitting sub-Saharan Africa. There are more than 25 million individuals infected and more than 100 million at risk in Nigeria. Among the different types of schistosomiasis, Schistosoma Haematobium affects the urogenital system causing blood in the urine and other symptoms and predisposes to urinary cancer.

photo source:

Despite the global efforts over the past 50 years, we only achieved limited success in Nigeria. Most of the campaigns designed used Praziquantel for prevention and treatment, as it has shown great success in multiple countries. Unlike other previously endemic states, the use of chemotherapy was not sufficient to address this major problem in Nigeria due to several limitations. In 2012. The World Health Organization (WHO) and World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a multifaceted plan to eradicate schistosomiasis. The plan aims at strengthening the local health systems, using chemotherapy, appropriate sanitation, and water systems, as well as promoting hygiene education and snail control. There will be multiple designs for this approach to address the different challenges in the different states.

In order to succeed in this battle, all the stakeholders should cooperate and understand their role. The Federal ministry of health in Nigeria should communicate and supervise the local communities closely to ensure that there is no waste of resources. The pharmaceutical companies play a fundamental role by supplying millions of praziquantel pills with the help of non-governmental organizations (such as the Carter Center). The schools and religious leaders should educate the citizens about this disease and the role of both chemotherapy and sanitation to lead a healthy and productive life. The local community leaders are responsible for maintaining the momentum to achieve the utmost benefit for their people in spite of the conflicting perception for this campaign.

Six years after the WHA declaration, there was a substantial success demonstrated by treating approximately 75 % of school aged children. There is a new road map issued by the WHO for the tropical diseases for 2021-2030 to address the gaps and finish the incomplete mission.


Tropical Diseases and the World Health Assembly 73rd Meeting

If it were not difficult enough to guide global health during a pandemic, some world leaders are trying to deflect attention from the real dangers at hand to score on their petty political concerns. In the meantime, we need to focus on what tropical health and disease issues may actually be coming under consideration at the virtual WHA 73.

Agenda item 3 (A73/CONF./1 Rev.1) or “COVID-19 response Draft resolution” directly addresses the concerns of many that other major deadly diseases and essential services should not be further neglected. The large group of resolution proponents urge countries and organizations to,

“Maintain the continued functioning of the health system in all relevant aspects, in accordance with national context and priorities, necessary for an effective public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other ongoing epidemics, and the uninterrupted and safe provision of population and individual level services, for, among others, communicable diseases, including by undisrupted vaccination programmes, neglected tropical diseases, noncommunicable diseases, mental health, mother and child health and sexual and reproductive health and promote improved nutrition for women and children, recognizing in this regard the importance of increased domestic financing and development assistance where needed in the context of achieving UHC.”

In Provisional agenda item 23 (A73/32) “Progress reports by the Director-General” we find updates on guinea worm eradication and the burden of snakebite envenoming. The report notes the situation in 2019, which is a far cry from the millions of cases in the 1980d when the dracunculiasis eradication effort was launched. “In 2019, three countries reported a total of 53 human indigenous cases of dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), namely, Angola (one case), Chad (48 cases) and South Sudan (four cases), from a total of 28 villages. Cameroon reported one human case, probably imported from Chad.”

It is important to note that, “The global dracunculiasis eradication campaign is based on both community and country-focused interventions,” where community members play an important role in surveillance and notification. This includes at-risk and border areas, as is being done in Cameroon. The challenge of human Dracunculus medinensis infection in dogs continues and points to the importance of One Health in the control and elimination of NTDs. Surveillance is not cheap, and the report stresses that funds are still needed so that international partners can continue to ensure that the last case of guinea worm is detected and contained.

Moving from the smaller serpent to the larger variety, the report recalls the May 2018 World Health Assembly resolution WHA71.5 on addressing the burden of snakebite envenoming. A global strategy, “Snakebite envenoming: a strategy for prevention and control” was launched in  in May 2019. The WHO Secretariat has “fostered international efforts to improve the availability, accessibility and affordability of safe and effective antivenoms for all, through assessments of antivenom manufacturing, training programs and stockpile procedures.

Finally, provisional agenda item 11.8 (A73/8) addresses a “Draft road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030.” This builds on resolution WHA66.12 (2013) on WHO’s earlier road map for accelerating work to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases (2012–2020). The proposed interventions build on important principles including:

  1. Tackling neglected tropical diseases through support of the vision of universal health coverage
  2. Adopting grassroots approaches that enable access to some of the world’s poorest, hard-to reach communities and people affected by complex emergencies
  3. Monitoring progress against neglected tropical diseases as a litmus test of progress towards the achievement of universal health coverage

The report notes that “40 countries, territories and areas have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease,” most notably dracunculiasis (as mentioned above, lymphatic filariasis and trachoma. Although “substantive progress has been made since 2012, it is evident that not all of the 2020 targets will be met.” Hence, a new draft road map for neglected tropical diseases for 2021–2030 is required. The three pillars supporting the new roadmap are outlined in the attached figure.

It is good to know that the 73rd World Health Assembly will not be completely overshadowed by COVID-19 and politics. Efforts to sustain and improve NTD control and elimination must not be jeopardized.

Tropical Health Update 2019-08-04: Ebola, Malaria Vectors, Snakebite and Trachoma

In the past week urban transmission in Goma, a city of at least 2 million inhabitants in eastern Democratic republic of Congo, was documented as a gold miner came home and infected his wife and child. To get a grip on the spread of the disease, DRC is considering another vaccine, not without some controversy. WHO provides detailed guidance on all aspects of response. On the malaria front we have learned more about malaria vectors, natural immunity and reactive case detection.

Ebola Challenges: Vaccines, Urban Transmission

The current Ebola vaccine being deployed to over 150,000 people in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces was itself an experimental intervention during 2016 when it was first used in the largest ever outbreak located in West Africa. BBC reports that, “World Health Organization (WHO) data show the Merck vaccine has a 97.5% efficacy rate for those who are immunised, compared to those who are not.”

The proposed addition of a Johnson and Johnson vaccine would be in that same experimental phase if introduced in DRC now. It has been proven safe as well as effective in other primates. The challenge is that even though the Merck vaccine supplies are near 500,000, this is not enough to cover the potential needs in an area with over 10 million people, although Merck is still producing more. At present, BBC says, “Those pushing for the use of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, had proposed using it to create a protective wall, vaccinating people outside the outbreak zone.” In addition, the new national response team is concerned that “Only about 50% of cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being identified.”

Finally, there is the issue of community mistrust of government workers and challenging logistics. “There are also concerns that the new vaccine – which requires two injections 56 days apart – may be difficult to administer in a region where the population is highly mobile, and insecurity is rife.”

If efforts at vaccination are needed soon in Goma, up to 2 million doses might be needed. Reuters reports that, “Congolese authorities were racing to contain an Ebola epidemic on Thursday, after a gold miner with a large family contaminated several people in the east’s main city of Goma before dying of the hemorrhagic fever.” Readers may recall that the West Africa outbreak of 2014-16 in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia accelerated greatly after infected people went to major cities in search of help.

The miner is the second ‘imported case into Goma, which borders Rwanda, but because his family lives there, he has already infected his wife and one of his 10 children. Contacts are being traced and monitored, but this urban and border threat is one of the factors that led WHO to finally declare the current outbreak a public health emergency.


As we move toward malaria elimination Reactive Case Detection (RCD) has been proposed as an integral part of these efforts with the hopes that is can be conceived of as a way of gradually decreasing transmission, according to an article in Malaria Journal. In fact, the value of RCD may be limited as follows:

  • RCD alone can eliminate malaria in only a very limited range of settings, where transmission potential is very low
  • In other settings, it is likely to reduce disease burden and help maintain the disease-free state in the face of imported infections

Another article looks at “natural exposure to gametocytes that can result in the development of immunity against the gametocyte by the host as well as genetic diversity in the gametocyte.” The researchers learned that there can be variations in immune response depending on season and geography. This information is helpful in planning malaria elimination interventions.

On the vector front a baseline susceptibility testing was conducted in 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa for neonicotinoids. “The target site of neonicotinoids represents a novel mode of action for vector control, meaning that cross-resistance through existing mechanisms is less likely.” The findings will help in the preparation for rollout of clothianidin formulations as part of national IRS rotation strategies by PMI and other partners.

Researchers also called on us to learn more about malaria vectors in other parts of the world. In order to eliminate Plasmodium falciparum from the Caribbean and Central America program planners should consider local vector characteristics such as An. albimanus. They found that, “House-screening and repellent IRS are potentially highly effective against An. albimanus if people are indoors during the evening.”

Vectors are also of concern on the edges of malaria transmission, particularly in South Africa, one of the ‘elimination eight’ countries of the Southern Africa Development Community. Researchers examined the, “potential role of Anopheles parensis and other Anopheles species in residual malaria transmission, using sentinel surveillance sites in the uMkhanyakude District of northern KwaZulu-Natal Province.” They found Anopheles parensis is a potential but minimal vector of malaria in South Africa “owing to its strong zoophilic tendency.” On the other hand, An. arabiensis was found to be the major vector responsible for residual malaria transmission in South Africa. Since these mosquitoes were found in outdoor-placed resting traps, interventions are needed to control outdoor-resting of vector populations.

NTDs of Concern

During the week, the member states of the African Union renewed their commitment to fight and permanently eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases. reported that, “Achievements to date include 1 billion people treated against at least one NTD and 37 countries have completed the removal of at least one NTD.”

Although some reports have discounted the idea of trachoma in Namibia, there may be reason to re-examine the situation. On Twitter Anthony Solomon notes that Namibia needs #trachoma prevalence surveys. A just-completed joint Ministry of Health & Social Services/@WHO mission found active trachoma & trichiasis in Zambezi & Kunene Regions.

The Times of India draws attention to snakebite. It says that “Under-reported and inadequately treated, fatalities in India are estimated at close to 50,000 a year, the world’s highest.”

Overall we can see that the concept of ‘neglect’ has several uses. There is neglect if half of Ebola cases are undetected. There is neglect if we do not understand malaria vectors in low transmission areas. Finally, there is neglect if we do not conduct up-to-date disease surveys to determine whether a disease is present or not. Elimination of tropical diseases is challenging when key processes are neglected.

The Weekly Tropical Health News 2019-06-29

Below we highlight some of the news we have shared on our Facebook Tropical Health Group page during the past week.

Polio Persists

If all it took to eradicate a disease was a well proven drug, vaccine or technology, we would not be still reporting on polio, measles and guinea worm, to name a few. In the past week Afghanistan reported 2 wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases, and Pakistan had 3 WPV1 cases. Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) was reported in Nigeria (1), DRC (4) and Ethiopia (3) from healthy community contacts.

Continued Ebola Challenges

In the seven days from Saturday to Friday (June 28) there were 71 newly confirmed Ebola Cases and 56 deaths reported by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Health. As Ebola cases continue to pile up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with 12 more confirmed Thursday and 7 more Friday, a USAID official said four major donors have jump-started a new strategic plan for coordinating response efforts. To underscore the heavy toll the outbreak has caused, among its 2,284 cases, as noted on the World Health Organization Ebola dashboard today, are 125 infected healthcare workers, including 2 new ones, DRC officials said.

Pacific Standard explained the differences in Ebola outbreaks between DRC today and the West Africa outbreak of 2014-16. On the positive side are new drugs used in organized trials for the current outbreak. The most important factor is safe, effective vaccine that has been tested in 2014-16, but is now a standard intervention in the DRC. While both Liberia and Sierra Leone had health systems and political weaknesses as post-conflict countries, DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces are currently a war zone, effectively so for the past generation. Ebola treatment centers and response teams are being attacked. There are even cultural complications, a refusal to believe that Ebola exists. So even with widespread availability of improved technologies, teams may not be able to reach those in need.

To further complicate matters in the DRC, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) “highlighted ‘unprecedented’ multiple crises in the outbreak region in northeastern DRC. Ebola is coursing through a region that is also seeing the forced migration of thousands of people fleeing regional violence and is dealing with another epidemic. Moussa Ousman, MSF head of mission in the DRC, said, ‘This time we are seeing not only mass displacement due to violence but also a rapidly spreading measles outbreak and an Ebola epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down, all at the same time.’”

NIPAH and Bats

Like Ebola, NIPAH is zoonotic, and also involves bats, but the viruses differ. CDC explains that, “Nipah virus (NiV) is a member of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus. NiV was initially isolated and identified in 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness among pig farmers and people with close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore. Its name originated from Sungai Nipah, a village in the Malaysian Peninsula where pig farmers became ill with encephalitis.

A recent human outbreak in southern India has been followed up with a study of local bats. In a report shared by ProMED, out of 36 Pteropus species bats tested for Nipah, 12 (33%) were found to be positive for anti-Nipah bat IgG antibodies. Unlike Ebola there are currently no experimental drugs or vaccines.

Climate Change and Dengue

Climate change is expected to heighten the threat of many neglected tropical diseases, especially arboviral infections. For example, the New York Times reports that increases in the geographical spread of dengue fever. Annually “there are 100 million cases of dengue infections severe enough to cause symptoms, which may include fever, debilitating joint pain and internal bleeding,” and an estimated 10,000 deaths. Dengue is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes that also spread Zika and chikungunya. A study, published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, found that in a warming world there is a strong likelihood for significant expansion of dengue in the southeastern United States, coastal areas of China and Japan, as well as to inland regions of Australia. “Globally, the study estimated that more than two billion additional people could be at risk for dengue in 2080 compared with 2015 under a warming scenario.”

Schistosomiasis – MDA Is Not Enough, and Neither Are Supplementary Interventions

Schistosomiasis is one of the five neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that are being controlled and potentially eliminated through mass drug administration (MDA) of preventive chemotherapy (PCT), in this case praziquantel. In The Lancet Knopp et al. reported that biannual MDA substantially reduced Schistosomiasis haematobium prevalence and infection intensity but was insufficient to interrupt transmission in Zanzibar. In addition, neither supplementary snail control or behaviour change activities did not significantly boost the effect of MDA. Most MDA programs focus on school aged children, and so other groups in the community who have regular water contact would not be reached. Water and sanitation activities also have limitations. This raises the question about whether control is acceptable for public health, or if there needs to be a broader intervention to reach elimination?

Trachoma on the Way to Elimination

Speaking of elimination, WHO has announced major “sustained progress” on trachoma efforts. “The number of people at risk of trachoma – the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness – has fallen from 1.5 billion in 2002 to just over 142 million in 2019, a reduction of 91%.” Trachoma is another NTD that uses the MDA strategy.

The news about NTDs from Dengue to Schistosomiasis to Trachoma is complicated and demonstrates that putting diseases together in a category does not result in an easy choice of strategies. Do we control or eliminate or simply manage illness? Can our health systems handle the needs for disease elimination? Is the public ready to get on board?

Malaria Updates

And concerning being complicated, malaria this week again shows many facets of challenges ranging from how to recognize and deal with asymptomatic infection to preventing reintroduction of the disease once elimination has been achieved. Several reports this week showed the particular needs for malaria intervention ranging from high burden areas to low transmission verging on elimination to preventing re-introduction in areas declared free from the disease.

In South West, Nigeria Dokunmu et al. studied 535 individuals aged from 6 months were screened during the epidemiological survey evaluating asymptomatic transmission. Parasite prevalence was determined by histidine-rich protein II rapid detection kit (RDT) in healthy individuals. They found that, “malaria parasites were detected by RDT in 204 (38.1%) individuals. Asymptomatic infection was detected in 117 (57.3%) and symptomatic malaria confirmed in 87 individuals (42.6%).

Overall, detectable malaria by RDT was significantly higher in individuals with symptoms (87 of 197/44.2%), than asymptomatic persons (117 of 338/34.6%)., p = 0.02. In a sub-set of 75 isolates, 18(24%) and 14 (18.6%) individuals had Pfmdr1 86Y and 1246Y mutations. Presence of mutations on Pfmdr1 did not differ by group. It would be useful for future study to look at the effect of interventions such as bednet coverage. While Southwest Nigeria is a high burden area, the problem of asymptomatic malaria will become an even bigger challenge as prevalence reduces and elimination is in sight.

Sri Lanka provides a completely different challenge from high burden areas. There has been no local transmission of malaria in Sri Lanka for 6 years following elimination of the disease in 2012. Karunasena et al. report the first case of introduced vivax malaria in the country by diagnosing malaria based on microscopy and rapid diagnostic tests. “The imported vivax malaria case was detected in a foreign migrant followed by a Plasmodium vivax infection in a Sri Lankan national who visited the residence of the former. The link between the two cases was established by tracing the occurrence of events and by demonstrating genetic identity between the parasite isolates. Effective surveillance was conducted, and a prompt response was mounted by the Anti Malaria Campaign. No further transmission occurred as a result.”

Bangladesh has few but focused areas of malaria transmission and hopes to achieve elimination of local transmission by 2030. A particular group for targeting interventions is the population of slash and burn cultivators in the Rangamati District. Respondents in this area had general knowledge about malaria transmission and modes of prevention and treatment was good according to Saha and the other authors. “However, there were some gaps regarding knowledge about specific aspects of malaria transmission and in particular about the increased risk associated with their occupation. Despite a much-reduced incidence of malaria in the study area, the respondents perceived the disease as life-threatening and knew that it needs rapid attention from a health worker. Moreover, the specific services offered by the local community health workers for malaria diagnosis and treatment were highly appreciated. Finally, the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITN) was considered as important and this intervention was uniformly stated as the main malaria prevention method.”

Kenya offers some lessons about low transmission areas but also areas where transmission may increase due to climate change. A matched case–control study undertaken in the Western Kenya highlands. Essendi et al. recruited clinical malaria cases from health facilities and matched to asymptomatic individuals from the community who served as controls in order to identify epidemiological risk factors for clinical malaria infection in the highlands of Western Kenya.

“A greater percentage of people in the control group without malaria (64.6%) used insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) compared to the families of malaria cases (48.3%). Low income was the most important factor associated with higher malaria infections (adj. OR 4.70). Houses with open eaves was an important malaria risk factor (adj OR 1.72).” Other socio-demographic factors were examined. The authors stress the need to use local malaria epidemiology to more effectively targeted use of malaria control measures.

The key lesson arising from the forgoing studies and news is that disease control needs strong global partnerships but also local community investment and adaptation of strategies to community characteristics and culture.

Milestones in Eliminating NTDs

WHO lists the milestones towards validation of elimination beginning with stopping the spread of infection through mass drug administration (MDA), implementing MDA in all endemic areas (100% geographical coverage), reducing infection below a threshold at which transmission is not sustainable in all endemic areas and stop MDA, and finally demonstrating sustained reduction of infection below the threshold no earlier than 4 years after stopping MDA. WHO also encourages countries to alleviate suffering by managing morbidity such as lymphedema and preventing disability.

By 2015 the partners providing PCT achieved a milestone. As WHO reports, “Preventive chemotherapy is achievable, as proven by the increasing numbers of people being reached each year. In 2015, over 1.5 billion treatments were administered to almost 1 billion individuals for at least one of the targeted infections: lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis soil-transmitted helminthiases and trachoma.

village records of MDA activities

At a low cost – between US$ 0.30 and US$ 0.50 per person treated in most settings – preventive chemotherapy remains the most affordable, cost-effective strategy for controlling and eliminating these diseases.” WHO also explains that to be fully sustainable and to maximize impact, PCT the strategy should be combined and delivered with other interventions, including improving access to safe drinking-water, hygiene, disease management and vector control.

USAID as one of the major NTD partners has spent nearly $700 million since 2006 to build the capacity of 33 endemic countries to plan and implement the MDA strategy for the five PCT diseases. By 2016, “USAID-assisted NTD programs had provided a total of more than 2 billion treatments in the respective countries, representing 935 million persons treated.” Over these years the number of persons living in implementation units (e.g. districts) that no longer require MDA has steadily increased.

Of the 25 countries USAID has supported for LF MDA, “Three had already stopped MDA treatment in 2015 (Togo, Cambodia, and Vietnam), Four were expected to stop MDA in 2017, and 10 more countries by 2020. There were eight countries where the date for stopping treatment was anticipated beyond 2020.” Likewise, “Most countries are on track to reach WHO 2020 elimination goals for trachoma,” and nearly all countries shown anticipate reaching post-MDA surveillance by 2021.

In conclusion, Robollo and Bockarie remind us that, “Interventions against neglected tropical diseases (NTD), including lymphatic filariasis (LF), (were) scaled up dramatically after the signing of the London Declaration (LD) in 2012… but some countries are considered not on track to meet the 2020 target using the recommended preventive chemotherapy and morbidity management strategies.” They believe that LF can be eliminated by 2020 “using cross-sectoral and integrated approaches” that incorporate the synergistic effect of the Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty reduction and water and sanitation.

Many Neglected Tropical Diseases: What About Eliminating Them?

Testing to see if transmission of lymphatic filariasis has stopped in Burkina Faso

Two things we need to note about the list of 20 diseases that the World Health Organization and partners classify as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). First, diseases like Rabies, Snakebite/envenoming, and Leprosy, while certainly more common in the tropics now, have in the past been global in distribution. Secondly some of the diseases have not been neglected. Onchocerciasis or river blindness has been the focus of a global partnership since 1975, and transmission in the America’s and much of the Sahel in Africa has been halted. Elimination of Dracunculiasis or Guinea Worm has also been the subject of many World Health Assembly Resolutions, and concerted effort has brought the number of cases down from 3.5 million in 1986 to 30 in 2017.  What is more to the point about these diseases is that they affect neglected people, the poor and vulnerable in remote rural areas or urban slums.

Still when we can compare NTD control programs with the rise of major disease control efforts like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the President’s Emergency Program For AIDS Relief, the President’s Malaria Initiative, World Bank Malaria Booster Program, Global A Vaccine Initiative among others, we can see that the global community has been able to focus major financial resources on a few diseases.  Now with the Sustainable Development Goals, that focus expanded from infectious to Non-Communicable Diseases.  It is natural therefore to fear that tropical health problems that are responsible for major loss of life and economic capacity will not be adequately addressed.

A system of rewards helped identify the last cases in many guinea worm endemic countries

Based on the World Health Organization’s 2020 Roadmap on NTDs, the London Declaration on NTDs recognized a “tremendous opportunity to control or eliminate at least 10 of these devastating diseases by the end of the decade” (i.e. by 2020). These include eradication of Guinea worm disease, and elimination by 2020 of lymphatic filariasis (LF), leprosy, sleeping sickness {human African trypanosomiasis) and blinding trachoma. In addition drug access programmes should help control by 2020 schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthes (STH), Chagas disease, visceral leishmaniasis and river blindness (onchocerciasis).

Five of the diseases are notable in that they can either be controlled or eliminated through Mass Drug Administration (MDA) using Preventive Chemo-Therapy (PCT). This effort is aided by drug donation programs at the global level and community based MDA at the local level. Ten companies were signatories to the London Declaration and contributed to drug donation programs to achieve MDA. According to WHO,

Preventive chemotherapy is aimed at optimizing the largescale use of safe, single-dose medicines and offers the best means of reducing the extensive morbidity associated with four helminthiases (lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiases) (6). Additionally, the large-scale administration of azithromycin – a key component of the SAFE strategy for trachoma (that is, lid surgery (S), antibiotics to treat the community pool of infection (A), facial cleanliness (C) and environmental improvement (E)) – is amenable to close coordination and, in future, possibly co-administration with interventions targeted at helminthiases.

Community health workers are the cornerstone of many NTD elimination programs

Targets for the 5 PCT diseases vary. The aim is to eliminate LF and Trachoma by 2020. Although the efforts against onchocerciasis have been running the longest, the refocus from control to elimination meant increasing the geographical scope of intervention, and now elimination may not be feasible until 2025.  With a focus mainly on the school aged and based populations, programs against schistosomiasis and STH talk of control, not elimination, although some endemic countries hope that elimination may be possible if the focus of these programs expands. So far, Togo is the only Sub-Saharan African country to have eliminated LF, and Ghana to have eliminated Trachoma.

Partnerships, funding and drug donations need to be strengthened if more countries are to join the ranks of Togo and Nepal.

Modern Day St Patrick Needed to Drive out Snakes and NTDs

While St. Patrick, the Christian missionary supposedly rid Ireland of snakes during the fifth century A.D., “Nigel Monaghan, who has trawled through vast collections of fossil and other records of Irish animals, has found no evidence of snakes ever existing in Ireland.” The rest of the world, of course, does not rest as easily, and therefore, “On June 9th, 2017 WHO categorized snakebite envenomation into the Category A of the Neglected Tropical Diseases.”

The World Health Organization explains that, “Snakebite envenoming is a potentially life-threatening disease that typically results from the injection of a mixture of different toxins (“venom”) following the bite of a venomous snake. Envenoming can also be caused by having venom sprayed into the eyes by certain species of snakes that have the ability to spit venom as a defense measure.” The organization notes that our of over 3,000 snake species globally, 250 are medically important because of their harmful venom. These can be found in 160 countries.

In preparation for the World Health Assembly, “the 142nd session of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board has recommended a resolution on snakebite envenoming to the 71st World Health Assembly, setting the scene for its possible adoption in May 2018.” The resolution calls on all countries to take definitive steps to stop the death, disability and suffering that snakebite inflicts on many of the poorest and most vulnerable of the world’s people.

A recent WHO report notes that, “As for other neglected tropical diseases, estimation of global morbidity, disability and mortality due to snakebite envenoming is problematic.” Rough estimates of the burden of snakebite include –

  • 8 million to 2.7 million cases of snakebite envenoming per year
  • 81 000 to 138 000 deaths per year
  • 400,000 people a year face permanent disabilities, including blindness, extensive scarring and contractures, restricted mobility and amputation following   snakebite envenoming

Mapping is a first important step for countries attempting to tackle this neglected disease. Sri Lanka was able develop snakebite risk maps to identify snakebite hotspots and cold spots in the country. A national survey in India found that, “Snakebite deaths occurred mostly in rural areas (97%), were more common in males (59%) than females (41%), and peaked at ages 15–29 years (25%) and during the monsoon months of June to September.” Costa Rica is using geographical information systems to identify populations in need of improved accessibility to anti-venom treatment for snakebite envenoming.

As Jose Mar?a Gutierrez and colleagues stress, “the need for incorporation of the proposed snakebite initiatives within the general struggle against all the NTDs will result in a significant and more logistically efficient reduction of human suffering.” This can be accomplished by having snakebite become part of the existing unified strategy for several NTDs that, “simplifies drug distribution, reduces duplication, and lessens some of the demands on health systems and staff.”

Thus with a unified approach we can hope to drive out snakes, worms, and other parasites from the homes, communities and countries of those suffering from the neglected diseases of poverty.