What are neglected tropical diseases?

‘Neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs) is an umbrella term used to describe a group of communicable diseases that affect over 1.7 billion people.

NTDs cause immeasurable suffering. They debilitate, disfigure and can be fatal. By most commonly affecting some of the most vulnerable people in the world – who often live in remote communities – NTDs create cycles of poverty and cost developing nations billions of dollars every year.

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of preventable and treatable diseases that place a heavy burden on over 1.7 billion people around the world.

Almost all countries

are endemic for at least one NTD

Over 1.7 billion people

are affected by NTDs

A guide to beating NTDs

There are currently 20 diseases defined as NTDs, which are the focus of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) road map. These 20 include three diseases that have been recently classified as NTDs: mycetoma, scabies and snakebite envenoming, which – combined – kill more than 200,000 people every year.

The WHO’s Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: a road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021−2030 describes five broad NTD interventions with the aim of controlling, preventing and/or eliminating 20 NTDs.

The five interventions recommended by WHO to combat NTDs are:

  • Preventive chemotherapy and transmission control (PCT): This intervention focuses on the availability of safe and effective drugs, which make it feasible to implement large-scale preventive chemotherapy.
  • Innovative and intensified disease management (IDM): The goal of IDM interventions is to manage diseases within primary healthcare systems, and ultimately to eliminate those diseases as public health problems. This intervention is used when cost-effective control tools do not exist and where large-scale use of tools is limited.
  • Vector ecology and management: Vector management focuses on effective methods of targeting mosquitoes, flies, ticks, bugs and other vectors that transmit pathogens.
  • Safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): Access to safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene is a key intervention in the new WHO draft road map. It is critical in the prevention and provision of care for all NTDs. According to the latest data, 40% of the world’s population does not have access to handwashing facilities at home, 47% of schools lack handwashing facilities and 16% of healthcare facilities have no functioning toilets or handwashing facilities at points of care where patients are treated.
  • Veterinary public health services: This intervention recognises that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment in which people live. Many NTDs, such as rabies, are zoonotic diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans.

Summary of progress

The previous WHO NTD 2012-2020 road map focused on 17 NTDs (dengue, rabies and snakebite envenoming have since been defined as NTDs and are included in the WHO NTD 2021-2030 road map).

In 2012, partners identified ten of these 17 NTDs as having the essential features for targeted, immediate assistance. These ten diseases became the focus of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases. By signing the London Declaration, partners committed to doing their part to controlling, eliminating or eradicating those ten NTDs by 2020. This coalition of partners – known as Uniting to Combat NTDs – was established to support the London Declaration.

You can read more about the history of the Uniting to Combat NTDs partnership here.