World's neglected tropical diseases

A north-eastern Thailand province is preparing to test its population for a parasitic worm to detect early signs of bile duct cancer, which is caused by eating raw seafood.

While this form of cancer is rare in most parts of the world, it is the leading cause of death in the Mekong region and one of many neglected tropical diseases.

Neglected tropical diseases impair the lives of 1 billion people, and these populations are mostly hidden and concentrated in remote rural areas or urban slums.

Below are a few other major neglected diseases of the world:

* Sleeping sickness, or Human African Trypanosomiasis

Transmitted by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei through the bite of the tsetse fly, sleeping sickness threatens millions of people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The parasite multiplies in the lymph and blood, causing headaches, fever, weakness and pain in the joints.

Over time, the parasite migrates to the central nervous system and causes severe neurological and psychiatric disorders, eventually leading to death.

Currently, treatments are limited to drugs developed decades ago that are either highly toxic, difficult to administer in resource-limited settings or are only effective in one state of the disease. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), Anacor Pharmaceuticals and SCYNEXIS Inc are jointly developing a new oral drug that can be used in both stages of the disease.

* Rabies

Rabies occurs in more than 150 countries and territories and each year more than 55,000 people die from it, 40% children under the age of 15.

Dogs are the source of 99% of human rabies deaths and each year, more than 15 million people worldwide receive a post-exposure anti-rabies shot to avert the disease, which is estimated to prevent 327,000 deaths annually.

* Chagas disease or American trypanosomiasis

This chronic debilitating condition is caused by a parasite transmitted by the infected faeces of blood-sucking bugs. It can also be contracted through transfusion of infected blood, by organ transplantation or congenitally from an infected mother to her foetus.

An estimated 10 million people are infected worldwide, mostly in Latin America where Chagas disease is endemic. More than 25 million people are at risk of the disease. In 2008, Chagas disease killed more than 10,000 people.

In most cases, symptoms are absent or mild, but can include fever, headache, enlarged lymph glands, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, swelling and abdominal or chest pain. In later years, the infection can lead to sudden death or heart failure, caused by progressive destruction of the heart muscle. - (Tan Ee Lyn/Reuters, July 2011)

Sources: World Health Organization, DNDi

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