At least one of these diseases is present in all 47 countries of the WHO’s African region.
Uganda will lose $1.3b in 14 years by 2030, which is about $92.8m (about 306b) annually, in treatment and loss of opportunity due to five preventable tropical diseases, new data at the World Economic Forum indicates.
The diseases that are silent, but highly debilitating are; the soil-transmitted intestinal worms, Bilharzia, elephantiasis, river blindness and trachoma.
The economic burden exerted by the five ailments classified as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) was contained in new data on sub-Saharan Africa released on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda recently.
The data says Uganda and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa could save $52b between 2011 and 2030 if they met the World Health Organisation targets for controlling or eliminating the five commonest NTDs.
According to the data, Uganda alone could save over $1.3b and avert more than 3.5 million years of life that could have otherwise been lost to ill health, disability and early deaths. The monies, according to the report, could be spent on other development or social priorities.
The data was developed by the Erasmus University with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
It said as of 2010, Uganda was affected by all five most common NTDs. It said, however, that fortunately much work is ongoing to prevent and treat NTDs in Uganda and protect people against the diseases.
It said sub-Saharan Africa bears over 40% of the global burden of NTDs and the five account for 90% of the region's NTD burden.
At least one of these diseases is present in all 47 countries of the WHO's African region, it said. It pointed out that meeting these health goals could help the region gain the equivalent of 100 million life-years that would otherwise be lost to ill health, disability and early death arising from these diseases.
"NTD control efforts offer a return on investment unparalleled in global health," said Ellen Agler, the chief executive officer of the END Fund, a private philanthropic initiative dedicated to ending the five most common NTDs.
"Ending these debilitating diseases will help reduce poverty at all levels, from families and communities to all nations," he said.
NTDs are a diverse group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that are prevalent in areas with limited access to safe water, proper sanitation and adequate medical services.
The impact of NTDs on both health and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa is massive. Each year, these diseases cause disabilities and disfigurements for millions of people in Africa.
They also increase absenteeism in schools and reduce labour productivity, ultimately perpetuating cycles of poverty. "I have seen the devastating effects of NTDs first-hand in my community," said the Nnabagereka of Buganda kingdom, Sylvia Nagginda (pictured), who delivered remarks at the event.
"We cannot continue to let people across Africa suffer from these diseases of poverty when simple solutions exist. It is holding our people and countries back. We can and we must do more," she added.
These diseases can be effectively prevented and treated using low-cost and easy-to-administer interventions.
Prevention measures could include mass drug administration and improved hygiene for people in affected communities. The report advised that pharmaceutical interventions should be used alongside preventive strategies, including promotion of safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
It advised the use of volunteers and teachers to distribute drugs to realise massive impact of NTD control on economic productivity and educational outcomes.
Commitment to ending NTDs
In its recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, the UN specifically emphasised ending NTDs by 2030. According to the report, sub- Saharan African countries have made progress towards ending NTDs.
Donors, development partners and governments made commitments and declared increased leadership and budgets to end these diseases. However, the report states, a funding gap remains in distributing medicines to the millions of people across sub- Saharan Africa, who still lack access.
It says additional resources are urgently needed from all sectors — public, private and philanthropic — to reach the WHO's 2020 targets for NTDs and reap the resulting health, education and economic benefits.
WHAT ARE UGANDA'S INTERVENTIONS?
According to the Ministry of Health, the country has instituted interventions to combat the diseases.
Thomas Lakwo, an entomologist in charge of the NTDs, said Uganda is making progress against the diseases, although there are challenges of reinfestation and volunteers dropping off the mass treatment exercise in the communities.
"Since these are volunteers, one needs to be committed to doing something for the community without pay," he explained.
Lakwo also said in addition to the five, there are some new NTDs that are cropping up affecting some areas. He said, for example in Nakapiripirit and other Karamoja areas, a new NTD identified as Kalazr, which affects the victims' internal organs, has cropped up.
The disease, he said, is spread by a sunfl y, which breeds under certain conditions found in Karamoja. The disease is only being handled at Amudat Hospital. Jiggers, he said, are another NTD which is negatively impacting the households' economic well-being, as well as causing school dropouts.
He said the NTD technical team made up of programme managers is meeting to review the status of the diseases and chart out the next course of action.