In a new editorial published in PLOS NTDs, Sabin Vaccine Institute president Dr. Peter Hotez urges the global community to recognize how neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) greatly impact Aboriginal groups worldwide and include these populations in NTD control and elimination efforts. Unfortunately, Aboriginal groups across Asia and Oceana, the Americas and Africa have largely been ignored.

As Dr. Hotez observes, “Unless we act now, they could represent the groups last to benefit from potential NTD elimination endgames.”

NTDs are diseases of poverty, associated with bleak living conditions because they thrive in areas with inadequate housing and sanitation, environmental degradation, improper nutrition and lack of access to health care.

Aboriginal groups typically face these circumstances. Approximately 370 million people are classified as belonging to Indigenous or Aboriginal groups. Although Aboriginal groups account for just five percent of the global population, they account for 15 percent of global poverty. As a result, Dr. Hotez writes, Aboriginal groups are at greater risk of adverse health consequences, such as non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertention, and infectious diseases, of which trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths (STH), skin infections, and dengue, among others, are the most common.

 In Malaysia, for instance, the Orang Asli face “high prevalence and intensity rates of hookworm infection and other [STH], which have been identified as key determinants of malnutrition and poor school performance and attendance among Malaysian school-children.” Meanwhile, “the rainforest area between Brazil and Venezuela represents one of the six remaining foci for endemic onchocerciasis elimination because of its size and the fact that the Yanomami are widely dispersed.”

Thankfully, steps can be taken to reduce the burden of NTDs among Aboriginal groups. Dr. Hotez recommends:

  • Including Ivermectin in mass drug administration (MDA) for some Aboriginal groups, particularly in Australia. However, as he cautions, using Ivermectin “may require additional safety data in pregnancy and small children.”
  • Recognizing the “potential benefits of MDA with azithromycin, particularly for reducing trachoma rates among Australia’s Aboriginal populations and the Yanamami. There is also recent evidence for the benefits of azithromycin MDA on reducing the prevalence of yaws.”
  • Considering the world’s 300-400 million Aboriginal peoples in efforts to achieve the 2012 London Declaration for NTDs, the largest coordinated effort on NTDs to date.
  • Following through on a broader strategy to control and eliminate NTDs so as to ensure sustainability; this entails improving water and sanitation, integrating vector control and management, ensuring childhood immunizations, and improving personal and family hygiene.
  • Giving “equal or even greater attention … to the key underlying social determinants of illness among the world’s Aboriginal populations, including improvements in housing and advances in overall economic development.”

With greater attention and a more concerted response effort, we can help ensure improved health among Aboriginal groups and make greater advances in the global fight against NTDs.

 We encourage you to read the full editorial at this link.  


Photo by Flickr user NTLam