Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases

IMA World Health-supported drug distribution teams in the commune of Limonade, Haiti work to dispense medication to the local community to prevent and treat lymphatic filariasis.

Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases

This blog was authored by Katina Sommers, Corus’ Technical Director for NTDs. 


On January 30th, we unite with the global community to call for investment and action to end Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). NTDs are a group of over 20 conditions that are found primarily in resource-limited settings and have severe impacts on health, social and economic outcomes. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that NTDs affect over 1 billion people globally, with 1.6 billion in need of both preventative and curative interventions. NTDs cause approximately 200,000 deaths annually, costing developing countries billions of dollars every year due to direct health costs, loss of productivity and reduced socioeconomic and educational attainment. Despite the significant impact of NTDs, they have historically received very little attention in the global health sector.  

Corus organization IMA World Health has worked to address NTDs for more than 20 years in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, using evidence-based strategies to implement NTD projects, in partnership with local governments and partners. Following the NTD Road Map, IMA World Health’s NTD programming is moving the needle towards meeting the WHO’s 2030 control and elimination goals.  

In 2023, I had the privilege of accompanying IMA World Health's NTD project field teams in Haiti, South Sudan and Tanzania, where I personally witnessed the profound impact of our NTD programming.

Haiti: Lymphatic Filariasis

Lymphatic filariasis (LF) is a debilitating neglected tropical disease (NTD) characterized by excruciating pain and disfigurement. It is caused by the bite of infected mosquitoes and can have long-lasting effects on patients, not only in terms of physical suffering but also mental, social and financial repercussions. These impacts often lead to stigma and perpetuate a cycle of poverty. 

As I flew into Cap-Haïtien, a sense of unease washed over me. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, is a fragile state that has endured significant social and political crises, rampant gang violence, civil unrest, natural disasters and recent outbreaks of infectious diseases like cholera. Haiti is also one of only four countries in the Americas where LF still persists. 

Stepping onto the tarmac, I was greeted with an unexpected surprise—a local band playing lively Haitian music. Instantly, a sense of calm washed over me, knowing that an incredible team was tirelessly working to implement a 10-day mass drug administration of a highly effective triple-drug therapy, a first for Haiti. What unfolded in the following days was a remarkable display of teamwork. The Haiti Neglected Tropical Disease Control Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), IMA World Health staff and the local community all joined forces. I traveled with community mobilizers and distribution teams from home to home, to schools and markets, ensuring that no resident was missed.  

In total, 45,255 people were treated, including 17,920 children, reaching 74.4% of the population in the targeted commune of Limonade. The pilot activity demonstrated the scalability and effectiveness of this innovative approach, with the potential to positively impact over 2.4 million people. The successes of this project provide hope that other partners can implement effective health interventions, bringing vital services to a resilient population that has endured immense hardship.

A child in Haiti holds the medicine she just took to prevent an NTD

A child in the commune of Limonade, Haiti after taking the effective triple-drug therapy (Ivermectin, DEC, Albendazole) for the prevention of lymphatic filariasis.

South Sudan: Visceral Leishmaniasis

In South Sudan, the world's newest country, a staggering 75% of the population requires humanitarian assistance. With nearly one-third of the population displaced, the nation continues to bear the scars of decades of war. Intercommunal violence, soaring inflation, catastrophic flooding, and a near-complete collapse of the health and education systems are further contributing to the crisis. South Sudan is also endemic for 14 NTDs, including visceral leishmaniasis (VL). Spread through sand fly bites, VL proves fatal in up to 95% of untreated cases. In partnership with the END Fund, IMA World Health’s VL project has been providing lifesaving treatment by supporting 25 healthcare facilities across the four VL-prevalent states of South Sudan. 

As I traveled along the bumpy roads in the remote southeast corner of the country, the challenges of transporting lifesaving diagnostics and medication to the supported health facilities were evident. During the rainy season, reaching certain areas can be a challenge, often involving hours of walking through waist-deep water. The local staff's dedication to providing last mile transportation in such conditions is truly remarkable. 

During this trip, we were conducting supportive supervision at a local hospital. We visited a five-year-old patient enrolled in the intensive 17-day IV treatment. Her family had walked upwards of one day to reach the clinic, and they were concerned about how they would feed themselves, given lack of food for patients and personal funds, challenges faced by most patients. In spite of these difficulties, over the past 1.5 years, 1,821 patients have been enrolled on treatment.

A young VL patient receives lifesaving treatment at an IMA World Health-supported hospital in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

A young VL patient receives lifesaving treatment at an IMA World Health-supported hospital in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

Tanzania: Trachoma

Trachoma is the leading cause of infectious blindness globally, resulting in irreversible blindness or visual impairment in nearly 1.9 million people worldwide. The impact of losing sight extends beyond the individual, affecting the entire community. It hampers economic participation, deprives children of education, and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. 

Trachoma, a progressive disease, can cause scarring on the inner eyelid over time. This scarring may eventually lead to in-turned eyelashes that painfully scratch and damage the cornea. Fortunately, a quick 15-minute surgery is the most effective intervention to reverse this condition. 

Since 2014, IMA World Health, in collaboration with Sightsavers and the Ministry of Health, has been tirelessly providing essential eye care services across six regions in Tanzania inhabited by nearly four million people. IMA World Health field teams reach some of the most isolated areas in the country, even traveling to remote lake islands to ensure that every single community is reached. 

I traveled to the far western Rukwa region to supervise a trachoma surgical camp.  A team of dedicated community-based screeners identifies patients in need of surgery, while skilled Ministry of Health surgeons (trained through IMA World Health) perform the outpatient procedure at local health clinics. Through this approach, IMA has successfully achieved full community coverage in the targeted regions, ensuring that no patient is left behind. Over the last nine years, IMA World Health has managed over 12,000 trachoma cases, pushing Tanzania closer to its 2030 goal for nationwide trachoma control.

Patients being screened for blinding trachoma by a surgeon at an IMA World Health outreach site in western Tanzania.

Patients being screened for blinding trachoma by a surgeon at an IMA World Health outreach site in western Tanzania.

Looking Forward

As IMA World Health continues to implement impactful programs to combat NTDs, the global health community must unite to raise awareness about these debilitating and life-altering diseases. The majority of NTDs are both preventable and treatable. We have the potential to make NTDs a thing of the past if we unite our voices, advocate for those affected and push for funding to provide services to patients in even the most remote and challenging contexts. Together, let's work towards a future free from NTDs.