Neglected Tropical Diseases are Now a Forgotten Threat

BY: Anatole Manzi —

Thirty years ago, I attended primary school in Rwanda. My family had no access to health care, and many days I never made it to school. In wrenching pain due to intestinal parasites, I would lay down on the roadside until I could stand again.  I cannot count the number of times I missed tests and risked suspension.

Two months prior to Covid-19 pandemic, I visited public schools in three countries, including my old elementary school in Rwanda. I was stunned to see children laying on the ground in abdominal pain. I could easily spot those with malnutrition. Just as I had many years ago, these children were suffering from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Talking with their teachers, it was clear that they did not know what to do to help their students. Neither had they interacted with staff at local health facilities—a reflection of the wide gap between the health and educational systems. Now, closing that gap offers the best hope for these young people and the best opportunity for countries to break the vicious cycle in which NTDs fuel poverty and undermine education.

Since the pandemic was first declared, governments have prioritized fighting Covid-19 across all levels of the health system. Countries reallocated resources to strengthen pandemic response teams and ensure provision of essential supplies. In the process, efforts to tackle NTDs were ended or fell to the bottom of countries’ to-do-lists.