Research Roundup: Progress in fighting NTDs and TB, Polio eradication setbacks, and the crisis surrounding Chagas
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
Over the last ten years, the WHO has convened global partners to address the incidence and health impact of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). There has been clear progress, as countries have taken major steps toward combating increasing rates of NTD screening and treatment. Currently, all Latin American countries screen for the Chagas virus in their blood donors. African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) is on track for eradication, with under 3,000 reported cases per year. Nonetheless, the challenges surrounding eradication of all NTDs are apparent, with the majority of vaccinations and medicinal treatments coming in the form of donations to the poorest countries in the world. The WHO highlights these efforts in their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes goals to achieve the eradication of all NTDs, but recognizes the challenges that hinder progress as politics and public health priorities shift.
An estimated ten percent of children in Kenya are affected by tuberculosis (TB), with more fatal cases of TB occurring in children than in adults in Kenya who contract TB. However, a recent initiative to deploy child-friendly medicines (water-soluble pills rather than bitter pills) has been associated with an increase in child survival. Issues surrounding TB in Kenyan children include cases that are not diagnosed, leading to severe forms of TB—including tuberculous meningitis, which is incredibly debilitating. The Kenyan Ministry of Health has been open about obstacles and successes regarding TB treatment, and has urged parents to be a part of the process to get their children diagnosed and treated.
Polio incidence has been at a historic low, and only Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan remain on the endemic list for the disease. Despite these levels being lower than they have ever been, new obstacles have slowed progress toward global eradication. These obstacles include a vaccine shortage and instability within the countries. The shortage of the inactivated polio vaccine currently affects 35 countries, and the supply will not be restored until at least 2018. The majority of polio cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan occur along the border, suggesting that there are geographic implications of the endemic. Nigeria, which was previously polio-free, had two cases of polio that set the country back. Pakistan is optimistic about eradicating the virus, and is launching a campaign to vaccinate over 37 million children.
The CDC estimates over 300,000 individuals in the United States suffer from Chagas, a parasitic disease that causes irreversible heart damage. Mosquitos carrying Chagas currently live in 27 states and take up much of the southern United States, meaning many Americans living in the south are susceptible to infection. Early detection and treatment are necessary to combat heart failure, and US agencies like the CDC and FDA must work with urgency to treat this as a national public health issue.