Real Change for Real People: How investments change lives (Part 5)

The Clinton Global Initiative, UN Summit on Millennium Development Goals, and TEDxChange are only a few days away. We present this series of five daily blogs on Neglected Tropical Diseases as an example of an area where philanthropists can make a big social impact. This is the conclusion of a series of five posts that look at the impact of neglected tropical diseases and why philanthropists focused on health may be interested. Although there is a lot of action needed to help treat those living in poverty and afflicted with one or more tropical diseases, there is also hope. The types of treatment options we’ve discussed in the previous blogs can make a real difference in the lives of those needing medical care.

A recently published report highlighted Sultan,1 a young man from Tanzania living with elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis). When photographed from the waist up, Sultan is a muscular and handsome man. However, a full shot reveals his dramatically swollen legs and makes it painfully clear why he is so debilitated. Because he has suffered with the disease since age 12, Sultan has been unable to complete his education. Combined with the pain and difficulty he has walking, it is almost impossible for him to find work. Through programs led by non-profit organizations, Sultan now has access to treatment and education to help him manage his disease.

Elimination is possible:

Many NTDs are curable and can be eradicated. Nicholas Kristoff, of the New York Times, traveled to the Sudan and saw how community action is being used to eliminate guinea worm.

NTD Snapshot

In the video, Kristoff meets a young Sudanese boy suffering with a painful guinea worm infection. Kristoff then speaks to health workers2 who travel to extremely rural villages, many miles from any type of medical center to seek out guinea worm sufferers. This disease is close to being wiped out and one group working toward that goal boasts, “It will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated without vaccines or medicines”.

What’s great about guinea worm eradication is that it combines the short and long term interventions mentioned in previous posts. Health workers are on the ground right now treating people currently infected with guinea worm and teaching them how to prevent spreading the disease to others. These groups also promote the importance of education and ways to ensure clean drinking water so that villages don’t become infected in the future.

Takeaway Message for Philanthropists:

  • Many neglected tropical diseases are able to be eradicated.
  • Treatment now and prevention for the future is the way to ensure that these common and debilitating diseases will be gone for good.
  • There are many different ways to invest in the elimination of neglected tropical diseases. These include:
    • supporting drug treatment
    • community mobilization
    • water and sanitation
    • innovation for new treatments, diagnostics, or prevention tools
  • With increased funding these diseases will no longer be neglected and finally receive the consideration they deserve.

Where to Learn More: Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

Stay tuned for further analysis from our Center on high impact models and agents addressing neglected tropical diseases.

Thanks to the authors, Isobel Harvey, former CHIP researcher and master’s candidate at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing, and Carol McLaughlin, CHIP research director, for their contributions to this series.

1 GlaxoSmithKline (2008). Lymphatic Filariasis: Eliminating a devastating global disease. Global Community Partnerships: Brentford, MA.

2 The Carter Center (2010). Health Programs: Guinea Worm Eradication Program. Retrieved from