Ebola draws attention to neglected tropical diseases

A microscopic image of the Ebola virus.
PHOTO: Ebola draws attention to neglected tropical diseases

The World Health Organisation in 2012 designated 17 diseases as priorities for eradication or control:

Dengue Fever

Virus spread by mosquitoes. Cases have increased rapidly in recent years. There is no approved drug but the first vaccine from Sanofi could reach the market late next year.


More than 99 per cent of deaths from rabies occur in the developing world, with domestic dogs the source of most cases. Post-exposure prophylactic treatment is possible.


A bacterial eye infection that can cause blindness, affecting more than 40 million people in over 50 countries. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Buruli Ulcer

Ulcers caused by bacteria that needs combination antibiotic treatment, or surgery in late-stage and severe cases.


Chronic skin infections, also known as endemic treponematoses, caused by bacteria. Yaws mainly affects children but has been eliminated in many countries, including India.


A bacterial disease characterized by disfiguring skin lesions that has been eliminated in many countries. Remaining cases are confined mostly to 17 countries.

Chagas Disease

A protozoan disease spread by blood-sucking insects known as kissing bugs. The large majority of cases are in Latin America.

Sleeping Sickness

Spread by the bite of the tsetse fly, the parasitic disease is difficult to diagnose and intravenous drug treatment can be toxic. A potential oral drug is in development.


A group of infections caused by protozoan parasites, which in various forms affect populations in more than 90 countries.


A tapeworm infection, leading to cysts developing in the central nervous system. Among the endemic countries, only China has a national surveillance and control programme in place.

Guinea Worm

An infection with nematode worms in drinking water. The disease is now on the verge of eradication.


A disease caused by the larval stages of a dog tapeworm. Some 200,000 new cases of cystic echinococcosis are diagnosed annually.

Trematode Infections

Tens of millions of people suffer from one or more food-borne infection caused by trematodes or flukes.


A painful and severely disfiguring disease caused by parasitic worms. The infection is usually acquired in childhood but its visible manifestations occur later in life.

River Blindness

An eye and skin disease caused by a tiny worm spread by the bite of an infected fly.


An infection caused by parasitic flatworms that live in fresh water. Larval forms of the parasites, which are released by snails, penetrate the skin of people in the water.

Soil-Transmitted Intestinal Worms

More than 1 billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminth infections. They are transmitted by eggs in human faeces which contaminate soil where sanitation is poor.