High hopes

Published: Wednesday 30 April 1997

millions of people in tropical regions of Asia, Africa and South America suffer from permanent disability due to leprosy, river blindness, Chagas disease and lymphatic filariasis. The World Health Organization (who) has predicted that these four diseases will be "eliminated as public health problems" within 10 years.

These predictions are based on recent research which has led to more effective drugs and anti-parasitic agents. Computer-based mapping programmes have also enabled health workers to focus on places where disease outbreaks are most serious. According to the who, a disease is 'eradicated' if the organism that causes it is wiped off the face of the earth, while 'elimination' would mean the number of cases is reduced to a level at which the disease is no longer a public health problem.

Elimination of each of these four diseases would cost several hundred million dollars. These can be resourced from national governments, international organisations such as the World Bank and the who, and from pharmaceutical companies who would provide free or low-cost drugs.

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