Since 1992, when the United Nations declared October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the world has come together on this day to recognize those who suffer and to renew commitments to fight poverty. This year, the U.N. is raising awareness of the violence and discrimination that accompanies extreme poverty. In addition to the threat of violence, the conditions of extreme poverty dramatically increase the risk of contracting neglected tropical diseases, a group of parasitic and bacterial infections that disproportionately affect people in poverty. This year, we must also raise awareness of NTDs and the research necessary to eliminate these diseases that affect more than 1.4 billion individuals worldwide, including people right here in the U.S.
Often referred to as “diseases of the bottom billion,” NTDs are closely linked to the poor living conditions experienced by impoverished communities. These diseases thrive in areas with poor sanitation systems, and inadequate shelters make individuals susceptible to bites from disease-carrying insects. Not only are poor individuals more likely to be exposed NTDs, but these diseases can trap individuals in a disabling cycle of poverty. Trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, results in an estimated $2.9 billion in lost productivity each year. Hookworm, an intestinal parasite that causes anemia and malnutrition, infects more than 575 million people worldwide and is estimated to cause a 43% reduction in future wage earnings.
On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we must recognize this relationship between NTDs and poverty and renew our commitment to eradicating NTDs. Cost-effective prevention and treatment methods do not yet exist for many of these diseases. More effective diagnostics and drugs could substantially improve treatment outcomes, while vaccines could eliminate the risk of NTDs altogether. Additional research to develop these new tools is not only essential for efforts to eliminate NTDs but is a crucial step for global efforts to eradicate poverty.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern