Washington, D.C., 16 January 2013 (PAHO/WHO) — Efforts to fight neglected infectious diseases —such as Chagas, leprosy and onchocerciasis (river blindness)— have had major success in Latin America and the Caribbean over the past decade. But continued commitment by governments and other partners will be needed to sustain gains made against these diseases, said experts from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in launching the new WHO report Sustaining the drive to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases.

The report shows that unprecedented progress has been made against 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that affect primarily low-income people in developing countries, thanks to a new global strategy, a regular supply of quality-assured, cost-effective medicines and support from global partners. Twelve of these diseases —caused by parasites, bacteria or viruses— affect the Americas.

According to goals set by PAHO member countries in 2009, 10 NTDs —lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, blindness due to trachoma, Chagas disease, malaria, leprosy, congenital syphilis, neonatal tetanus, plague and rabies transmitted by dogs— have been targeted for elimination between 2105 and 2020, while two others —soil-transmitted worms (geohelminths) and schistosomiasis— are expected to be drastically reduced in the next few years.

Progress already achieved against NTDs in the Americas during the past decade includes:

  • Transmission of onchocerciasis has been interrupted or eliminated in 11 of 13 foci in the Americas, and Colombia is currently in the process of officially verifying (through WHO) its elimination of the disease.
  • 14 countries have interrupted domestic vector transmission of Chagas disease either nationwide or in specific endemic areas, and the vast majority of the region's countries have eliminated transmission through blood transfusions.
  • In the Caribbean, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Puerto Rico have eliminated transmission of schistosomiasis, and St. Lucia and Suriname are close to elimination.
  • 34 of 35 countries and territories in the Americas have eliminated leprosy at the national level (with under 1 case per 10,000 inhabitants).
  • Costa Rica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago have been removed from the list of countries with endemic lymphatic filariasis, and 9 million people (most of them in Haiti) were treated for this disease between 2011 and 2012.
  • 6 million preschool children and 19 million school-age children received deworming treatment for soil-transmitted parasites in 2011.

"All these achievements represent significantly reduced suffering, disability and pain for the poorest families and also offer lessons learned that should be strengthened and scaled up to close the gaps in the control and elimination of these diseases in our region," said Dr. Luis Gerardo Castellanos, PAHO Senior Advisor for prevention and control of communicable diseases.

In January 2012, WHO launched the 2020 Roadmap to accelerate goals for eliminating neglected infectious diseases at the global level, and the following month, a group of key partners signed the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases pledging their support for the strategy.

As part of the new global WHO strategy on NTDs, funding and medicines donated by international partners have helped to fast-track actions and initiatives that are having a measurable impact in affected countries. These have facilitated a major scale-up of preventive chemotherapy, with widespread delivery of safe, single-dose, quality-assured medicines. Of the millions of people at risk of NTDs in Latin America and the Caribbean, many are currently receiving these preventive treatments to protect against five diseases (filariasis, onchocerciasis, trachoma, soil-transmitted worms and schistosomiasis).

These medications are being donated by partners who have signed the London Declaration on NTDs, while others are being purchased with assistance from the PAHO Strategic Fund and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

PAHO is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.


Media Contacts: 
Leticia Linn, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Tel. + 202 974 3440, Mobile +1 202 701 4005, Donna Eberwine-Villagran, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Tel. +1 202 974 3122, Mobile +1 202 316 5469, Sebastián Oliel, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Phone +1 202 974 3459, Mobile 202 316 5679, Knowledge Management and Communications, PAHO/WHO—www.paho.org