Today is the first ever World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day! We also like to refer to it as the first annual day recognizing diseases that you can’t pronounce and — let’s be honest — have never heard of. And if you think we’re exaggerating, try this one: onchocerciasis. Hint: It’s pronounced ohn-koe-ser-kye-ah-sess.
From onchocerciasis to schistosomiasis to lymphatic filariasis, these tongue twisters represent a group of diseases classified as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Caused by parasites and bacteria found in many parts of the world, these diseases can cause disfigurement and disability rather than death – muffled by the alarm raised by killers like malaria and HIV.
NTDs have finally been given their own day for a reason: NTDs affect more than a billion of the world’s most vulnerable people. From public health officials, to teachers, to lab technicians and community volunteers, millions of people are fighting to eliminate these diseases, and they’re winning.
In honor of World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day, here’s interesting and unusual facts about these hard to pronounce diseases and the successful efforts to fight them.
1. These diseases are ancient. While they might be new to you, NTDs have been wreaking havoc for centuries. In fact, NTDs like leprosy, schistosomiasis, Guinea worm, trachoma, and others are referenced in historical texts like the Bible, Talmud, and Ebers Papryus. Hieroglyphs have even been found on Nubian tombs in South Sudan depicting the common practice of pulling out one’s eyelashes due to trachoma infection.