New Delhi: In India, neglected tropical diseases continue to be a major health burden. Additionally, climate change is having an increasing impact on public health in tropical countries and has the potential to have a variety of different effects on disease distribution and transmission. In order to develop solutions that are efficient, pertinent, locally practical, and sustainable, innovation in diagnoses, treatment, and prevention is required.Speaking to NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team, Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, Public health expert and founder of Foundation for People-Centric Health Systems (FPHS), detailed the effects of the inadequate healthcare system and the climate change on the spread of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
NDTV: What is the 10/90 gap in healthcare and how does it affect the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)?
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya: 10 by 90 gap means that 90 per cent of the healthcare resources are utilised for 10 per cent of the diseases that affect high-income countries. Whereas, 90 per cent of the diseases which are mainly in low and middle-income countries, only 10 per cent of healthcare resources are there. So, there is no commensurate investment for many of the diseases and most of them are listed as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). This reflects the healthcare inequality, the weakness of the healthcare system and the lower priority towards NTDs. But now NTDs are being recognised as a major challenge and we really hope that in the coming time, they will be tackled in a way that these diseases don’t remain neglected anymore. That is the kind of future we are looking for.
NDTV: What are the symptoms, diagnostics and the treatments for some of the NTDs prevalent in India?
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya: Every disease has a different clinical symptom. For example, in a snake bite, it depends upon the type of poisonous snake, whether it is neurotoxic and hemolytic; in Scabies, people experience itching, often severe, tiny blisters or bumps on the skin, effect on hair follicles, difficulty in sleeping, etc; in Leprosy, the nerve endings and terminal endings of the fingers and toes and are damaged; Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), also known as Elephantiasis, occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. So, the symptoms would depend on the kind of condition an individual is affected with. We need to understand that there are a wide range of diseases but there is limited awareness about them. We need to know that they are preventable but there is no sufficient programmatic attention given to them. The primary healthcare providers are not aware of NTDs and their healthcare symptoms. So, the general public is unaware of their existence and it further delays in receiving timely care.
NDTV: How many people globally are at the risk of contracting one or the other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)?
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya: All these disconnects have contributed to the diseases being termed as ‘neglected’. India has reduced some of the NTDs, and efforts are being made to reduce other conditions, like Kala Azar (Black Fever) and we are also looking at eradicating Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) from the country. If we talk about LF, the condition is preventable by annual consumption of some medicines. So, if an individual takes certain medicines as per their body weight and the maximum number of people are covered in such a way, the condition can be eliminated. That’s how we can make progress in this direction. The key point to remember is that these diseases are innocuous diseases and if the government and citizens work together to implement interventions, the preventable burden of NTDs can be reduced. Understand this, the cost of eliminating NTDs are lower than its burden and the long-term economic impact of these diseases.
NDTV: How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the functioning of NTD programmes in India?
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya: We know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, essential health services had taken a hit, due to various restrictions, lockdowns, etc. So, this is a reminder that although NTDs affect a certain part of the world, the entire world needs to work together to eradicate them. The global research community needs to invest in developing drugs for the NTDs and there is a need for more research on the vaccines against these diseases.
NDTV: How does climate change affect the Neglected Tropical Diseases?
Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya: The deforestation and climate change has a major impact on the spread of NTDs. The pathogens living in the forest come in contact with human beings due to deforestation and it further increases the risk of the emergence of new diseases. Similarly, as and when there is a rise in the global temperature, it increases the spread of the pathogens in additional areas. Deforestation and climate change will lead to the spread of pathogens, resulting in the further spread of diseases. We should not assume that climate has an effect only on NTDs, it results in an increase in outbreaks, endemics and pandemics.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.