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The authors of a recent report into Neglected Tropical Diseases (NDTs) in Oceania have called for a renewed push in investment to combat these diseases in the region.
NTDs, the most common infections among people living in extreme poverty, are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that cause blindness or disable and disfigure the victims. Professor Peter Hotez, the lead author of the report, said ‘...these tend not to be killer diseases, but rather they disable...and actually trap people in poverty. They trap people in poverty because they make people too sick to go to work everyday. They actually reduce childhood intelligence and cognitive development and physical development and they cause adverse pregnancy outcomes.'
Of particular concern in the Australian context were the high rates NTDs identified in Indigenous populations. Indigenous Australian's were found to suffer from disproportionately high rates of NTDs, including strongyloidiasis (round worm infection), leprosy, scabies, hookworm and trachoma.
Trachoma, an infectious eye disease that can lead to blindness if left untreated, has long been identified as a significant public health issue in remote Australian Indigenous communities. The World Health Organisation supported SAFE program (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental control), which has been implemented in many Indigenous Australian communities, has so far been successful in reducing trachoma's overall prevalence in these communities.
While tremendous strides have been made in controlling and eliminating selected NTDs in Oceania, largely through programs involving mass drug administration (MDA), the report has identified an urgent need for significant improvement in reducing NTD prevalence in Papua New Guinea and among Indigenous Australians. The report suggests that the Indigenous population of Australia may benefit from appropriately integrated MDA into primary health care systems.
Professor Hotez believes that the Australian Government needs to do more to reduce NTD infection in our region. ‘They've [the Australian Government] not really prioritised neglected tropical diseases as much as they should, but in fact, our findings are suggesting that these are among the most important health problems among the poor in the region. And what's so amazing is it's so easy to do, to make a big difference,' said Professor Hotez.
Source: Radio Australia, PLOS Neglected Tropical Disease
Departments of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology, and National School of Tropical Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, Texas, USA