Dengue Spreading, But Tropical Diseases Closer to Extinction


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The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that significant progress is being made against tropical diseases including guinea worm, rabies, and yaws. In a new report, the organization shows that "new momentum has shifted" toward the elimination of many diseases which disproportionately affect the world's poorest people.

“With this new phase in the control of these diseases, we are moving ahead towards achieving universal health coverage with essential interventions,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO. “The challenge now is to strengthen capacity of national disease programmes in endemic countries and streamline supply chains to get the drugs to the people who need them, when they need them.”

Of the 17 neglected tropical diseases charted in the report, two are targeted for global eradication: dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) in 2015 and yaws in 2020. Between January and September 2012 only 521 cases of guinea worm were reported, a step up from the 1006 that were reported during the same period in 2011.

The report also sets targets for the elimination of five diseases in 2015 and 10 targets for the elimination of nine diseases in 2020, either globally or in certain regions. Rabies has been eliminated in "several" countries and could be regionally eliminated by 2020.

“The prospects for success have never been so strong,” said Chan. “Many millions of people are being freed from the misery and disability that have kept populations mired in poverty, generation after generation, for centuries.”

Unfortunately, progress has not been as exceptional against dengue fever. The disease was the fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease of 2012, and the WHO states that it has "epidemic potential." Cases of dengue have increased 30-fold over the past 50 years. The WHO recommends preventive measures against dengue, rather than a reactive treatment approach.

(Image courtesy WHO /Christopher Black)