Infectious diseases

Neglected tropical diseases

Children in a hospital of the Center for Combating the Tropical Disease Buruli ulcer in Togo, financed by the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association (Deutsche Lepra- und Tuberkulosehilfe)

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) form a very mixed group of some twenty communicable diseases and poisonous snakebites (envenomation). They vary widely in terms of their pathogens, transmission paths and geographical distribution. Our knowledge from research into the options for diagnosis and therapy also varies greatly, depending on the specific disease in question.

Alongside relatively well-known illnesses such as leprosy, rabies, bilharzia or river blindness, this group includes lesser known infections such as yaws or buruli ulcer. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, worldwide, more than a billion people are suffering from one or more of these diseases. The economic damage they are causing to the relevant developing countries is calculated by the WHO at several billion US dollars per year.

Suffering goes largely unnoticed

Neglected tropical diseases affect above all poor communities living in challenging environments such as remote rural areas, urban slums, conflict zones or regions hit by natural disasters. These diseases often occur in connection with unclean drinking water and a lack of sanitation. Many sufferers have no access to even basic medical care and have no voice with which to articulate their needs to policymakers.

Multisector approach needed

Under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the international community has committed itself to the goal of eradicating neglected tropical diseases by 2030 (Goal 3.3). To secure lasting success in the fight against these diseases, we need a comprehensive, multisector approach of the kind pursued by Germany in its development cooperation.

Purely medical measures are not sufficient in the long run. We need to address and improve the whole life situation of those affected. This is why it makes sense to bundle a variety of activities that help control the diseases. Thus, alongside the efforts to strengthen the medical infrastructure, it is important to provide safe water, sanitation and hygiene. Measures to improve people’s educational and income situation also form part of this comprehensive approach.

German activities

Germany has been supporting comprehensive sets of measures to prevent and combat neglected tropical diseases over many years. The types of activities have changed over time. The focus of German development cooperation is now on strengthening the health systems as such – irrespective of specific diseases. This means the core of Germany’s commitment is no longer on programmes to fight individual diseases but, rather, on integrating national NTD programmes in universal health care for the entire population.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is, for instance, assisting the member states of Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Communauté Economique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale, CEMAC) with the effective roll-out of their programmes for treating and controlling neglected tropical diseases. This support includes the promotion of young scientists from the regions who are engaged in research work in this field.

Under its special programme on "Health for Africa" the BMZ is building laboratory capacities in East and West Africa. Modern diagnostic methods are essential for identifying diseases, monitoring treatment outcomes and interrupting transmission paths. The BMZ is also supporting its partner countries in the development of local pharmaceutical production capabilities. The aim is to enable them to manufacture for themselves effective, affordable and high-quality drugs that meet international standards.

Global Health Investment Fund

Although around 90 per cent of preventable deaths occur in developing countries, only about 10 per cent of worldwide resources devoted to health research are directed at diseases in developing countries. This is the context in which tropical diseases are neglected. More medical research funding must be spent on the development of screening methods, drugs and vaccines. The Global Health Investment Fund (GHIF) seeks to counter this imbalance. The fund’s purpose is to find innovative financial solutions to health problems that severely impair people’s lives in poor countries yet attract very little investment.

At the request of the BMZ, the KfW Development Bank helped to capitalise the fund in 2012 with a ten million euro investment, thus providing around 10 per cent of the Fund’s initial capital. The GHIF finances, among other initiatives, the development and market launch of new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for neglected tropical diseases.

BMZ glossary

Close window


Share page