Neglected Tropical Diseases Control Program

In 2007, the Access Project began to build Rwanda’s first Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Control Program. NTDs are a group of preventable and treatable infections including trachoma, schistosomiasis and intestinal worms, which can cause chronic illness, malnutrition, disfigurement, and other long-term consequences. NTDs can cripple communities, making it impossible for people to lift themselves out of poverty. In partnership with the MOH, the Access Project spearheaded the most extensive mapping of NTDs ever undertaken in Rwanda. This mapping guided development of new interventions including twice-yearly mass drug administration for most of the children in the country. The Access Project and its partners have built the capacity in Rwanda’s health system to eventually eliminate NTDs as a health threat. 

Neglected tropical diseases disproportionately affect poor people worldwide. NTDs can be easily treated, but the disabling effects of untreated NTDs have an enormous impact on the work force and consequently the productivity of communities they affect, preventing children from attending school, reducing future earnings and in some cases ostracizing people from their own communities.

Controlling a range of diseases – not just HIV, malaria and TB – is a critical step to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set forth by the world’s countries to halve poverty by 2015. The NTD Control Program is working with the Government of Rwanda to eliminate the most prevalent NTDs, connecting health centers across the country with the research, interventions and training needed to fight NTDs on a national scale. Read more on this initiative or click here to watch a report on Rwanda’s progress against NTDs.

Target Diseases – Treating NTDs has a rapid impact on the health, school performance and economic productivity of a community. With medications available for as little as $0.50 (US) per person per year, it takes very little to make a big difference. The failure to provide treatment hampers child development, yields a generation of adults disadvantaged by infection, and compromises economic development.

Soil Transmitted Helminths – More than 75% of children in Rwanda are believed to be infected with intestinal worms. These children are often physically and intellectually compromised by anemia, leading to attention deficits, learning disabilities, school absenteeism and higher drop-out rates. Deworming has also been shown to represent a major strategy for improving pregnancy outcome, reducing maternal morbidity and mortality, and improving the chances of surviving severe malaria. This disease is prevalent throughout all of Rwanda.  (See the prevalence map of STH in Rwanda here)

Schistosomiasis – Schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, is a parasitic disease caused by trematode worms (flukes). Five species are known to cause disease in humans. In Rwanda, intestinal schistosomiasis is known to be prevalent in many areas where fresh water breeds water snails that host the parasites. Although it has a low mortality rate, schistosomiasis can be very debilitating, causing liver and intestinal damage (intestinal schistosomiasis), and bladder damage (urinary schistosomiasis). Together with soil-transmitted helminthiasis, schistosomiasis is the leading cause of physical growth retardation in children and also neuropsychiatric disturbances, such as cognition problems and memory loss. In Rwanda, this disease is mainly prevalent around lakes and swampy areas where rice and sugar cane are grown.  (See the prevalance map of schistosomiasis in Rwanda here)

Trachoma – Caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, trachoma is a highly contagious eye disease, which may result in blindness. It is spread by direct contact with eye, nose, and throat secretions from infected individuals, or contact with objects, such as towels and/or washcloths, that have had similar contact with these secretions. It may be carried by flies that have been in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Trachoma tends to occur in clusters, often infecting entire families and communities. In Rwanda, it is more prevalent in the eastern part of the country. View the Trachoma report here.

View the Lymphatic Filariasis report here.