A note on this page's publication date
The content we last updated in 2011 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to the research it presents and with respect to what it implies about our views and positions.
- Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of parasitic diseases that can cause mental and physical debilitation but rarely result in death.1
- NTDs are extremely common in many parts of the developing world.2
- Proven, cost-effective solutions can treat and prevent NTDs (more).
- We recommend: Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and Deworm the World Initiative, led by Evidence Action
Published: 2009; Updated: 2011
"Neglected tropical diseases" (NTDs) are a specific set of chronic infectious diseases found primarily in tropical areas. They include (but are not limited to) a variety of intestinal worms, the disfiguring disease lymphatic filariasis, and the blinding diseases trachoma and river blindness. They do not include such well-known diseases as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. While most NTDs do not directly cause death, they can have debilitating consequences such as malnutrition, blindness, disfigurement, anemia, and low energy.3
Fortunately many NTDs are cheaply and safely treatable. For many of the diseases, a yearly dose of a combination of drugs administered to all residents of at-risk areas can effectively and inexpensively reduce prevalence.4
How do charities address neglected tropical diseases?
Charities run a variety of programs to combat NTDs. In our work, we have focused on the types of programs run by the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and the Deworm the World Initiative, led by Evidence Action, which focus on large-scale programs that provide individuals with doses every 6-months to two-years.5
For background information on NTDs, see our summary of disease facts.
The Disease Control Priorities Project estimates that 31% of sub-Saharan Africans are infected with schistosomiasis (parasitic worm), and 3% with lymphatic filariasis. Trachoma and onchocerciasis (river blindness) are significantly less prevalent in Africa overall, but may be highly endemic in certain areas. Data from WHO, "Prevalence for Selected Causes in WHO Regions (2004)" (XLS).
More at our disease facts page.
See our comparative summary of proven programs, which includes programs to combat NTDs. Additionally, see our full reviews of drug distribution programs for lymphatic filariasis, drug distribution programs for river blindness, the SAFE program for trachoma, and deworming programs.
More details in our technical review of deworming programs.
What are the challenges of finding a great 'neglected tropical disease' charity?
From what we've seen, the major organizations focused on deworming work heavily with developing-world governments. They spend money on both advocacy and subsidies for government control programs. We therefore have the following questions:
- How do the charity's funds break down between subsidies and advocacy?
- For subsidies:
- How much of the total spending on control programs has been covered by the charity, as opposed to the government?
- How has the government been audited to ensure compliance with terms and conditions?
- Does the charity intend to keep subsidies at the same level indefinitely, or does it intend for the government to take over activities? If the latter, what is its track record in accomplishing this difficult task? Note that while we consider "sustainability" optional for some programs, it may be important for deworming.
- For advocacy activities:
- How much has been spent, what programs (and where) have been advocated, and to what results? What does the future advocacy plan and budget look like, and what might be expected from it?
- To the extent that advocacy has succeeded, has it resulted in (a) more government funding for NTD control with no offsetting cuts, i.e., increases in total medical budgets; (b) more government funding for NTD control at the expense of other health spending; (c) more funding for NTD control, contingent on more donor subsidies?
- If (a), how has the increase in funding been financed? If (b), where have cuts been made, and to what extent has funding shifted from other worthy health spending? If (c), what are the answers to the key questions about subsidies (above)?
Where should you donate to fight neglected tropical diseases?
For donors interested in using their donation to fight neglected tropical diseases, we recommend:
- Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, which assists African governments with treatment of neglected tropical diseases. For more, see our full review of SCI.
- Deworm the World Initiative, led by Evidence Action, which supports governments of developing countries in the treatment of neglected tropical diseases. For more, see our full review of DtWI.