Neglected diseases receive very little public attention. Little or no research is conducted into them. Almost without exception, they rage among the poorest sections of society in the tropical countries who have little money and whose health produces no commercial benefit for the major pharmaceutical manufacturers. They are grouped together under the heading "neglected tropical diseases".
Leprosy and Buruli ulcer are two such neglected diseases that we are already fighting. There are, however, a large number of other tropical diseases that also take a chronic course and drive people into poverty. These diseases are particularly rampant among the almost 1.3 billion people living in abject poverty - that is to say, on less than 1 USD per day.
In our projects in Africa and Asia, we constantly encounter these diseases. Children in particular are afflicted. Almost all of them are chronically infected with worms resulting in constant tiredness due to anaemia. Their growth is impaired and they are easy prey for deadly diseases such as malaria and pneumonia. Their eyes are beset with flies and usually inflamed. Left untreated, the trachoma infections transmitted in this way will result in blindness.
People contract bilharzia from bathing in lakes and ponds and farming the marshy watersides. This parasite damages their bladders and intestines causing them to have bloody urine or constant diarrhoea. Mosquitoes spread filariosis which causes horrible swollen extremities with the result that the legs of the sufferers become useless "elephant feet" (elephantiasis). River blindness, transmitted by a biting fly, at first causes a constant, almost unendurable itching and ultimately also results in blindness.
We fight these neglected diseases in order to improve people's health and safeguard them from death and disablement.
The killer disease malaria is responsible for some 1.3 million deaths per year. It destroys 47 million productive years of life, measured in so-called DALYs (disability-adjusted life years). Although "only" around half a million people die as a result of neglected tropical diseases each year, they destroy almost 60 million productive years of life.