The World Health Organization has called for renewed commitments and focused efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases – kala azar, leprosy, yaws, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis – which continue to disable, disfigure and kill people in the WHO South-East Asia Region.

“Though called neglected diseases, these are diseases of the people who are neglected, the poorest of the poor. Strong political commitments and renewed and focused efforts centered around the affected population are needed to control, eliminate and eradicate these diseases,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said at a meeting of health ministers and senior health ministry officials from the 11 Member countries, in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Some of these neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are fatal if not treated. Others leave the affected population disfigured and disabled, leading to discrimination, high stigma and often social isolation, pushing them further into poverty.

Among the NTDs, though progress is being made against leprosy, the disease continues to be endemic in all countries of the Region, which reported 155,000 cases, 73% of the global cases, in 2013. Nearly 126,000 cases were reported from India. Six countries in the Region – India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka are amongst high burden leprosy countries in the world, reporting more than 1000 new cases annually. The Region alone accounted for 60% global leprosy disabilities in 2013.