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Neglected Tropical Diseases 2021

Fighting neglected tropical diseases to build human capital

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer

David Wilson

Program Director, Health, Nutrition and Population, World Bank

The fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has caused an overwhelming economic burden to many countries, which has stalled human capital development, but more is being done to tackle this.


Recognising the nexus between poverty and disease and the importance of reducing the disease burden to improve human development, the World Bank initiated their first health project in 1974. It was a disease control program for river blindness, one of the leading NTDs in the developing world.

Since then, we have supported numerous programs to combat NTDs and reduce the impact on people and economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. NTDs cause disabilities that range from physical impairment to severe malnutrition and anaemia.

Going beyond health

Investing in people’s health and education significantly contributes to human capital development, which is why the World Bank launched its Human Capital Project in 2018. The potential synergy between the health, education and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sectors is often undervalued and the returns on co-investments are rarely optimised. Therefore, to address the public health threats from NTDs, the Deworming Africa Initiative supports cross-sectoral approaches in partnership with the World Food Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Health Organization.

Deworming as a key health service

Through this initiative, we have helped reduce the endemicity of five NTDs by focusing on deworming the most vulnerable populations. Annual investments to combat NTDs in Sub-Saharan Africa from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, doubled from US$4 million to US$8 million between 2015 and 2019.

Better coordination across sectors will help developing countries to reach the Sustainable Development Goal.

A new way forward

While the pandemic risks undermining recent advances, it also offers an opportunity to improve the sustainability, implementation and governance of programs against NTDs through innovative approaches.
Better coordination across sectors will help developing countries to reach the Sustainable Development Goal 3.3 target to end epidemics of NTDs and other communicable diseases. The World Bank will continue to support developing countries as they fight these debilitating conditions and build up their resilience to external shocks that slow progress toward their health and human capital objectives.

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