Nearly one quarter of the world’s most serious neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and 100 percent of Chagas disease occur in the Catholic-majority countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a finding highlighted in an editorial published on April 26th in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Despite significant efforts by Catholic charities operating throughout NTD-endemic areas, Dr. Peter Hotez, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, argues that the prevalence of NTDs in Catholic communities requires greater collaboration between local charities, churches and governments for control programs to fully succeed. Catholic relief organizations and local churches, in particular, are strongly positioned to play a leading role in eliminating NTDs afflicting the world’s poor.

Many Catholic charities have conducted successful NTD education and treatment campaigns in endemic areas, often for several decades. Dr. Hotez believes these charities now have a unique opportunity to leverage this experience to partner with governments in the development of national NTD control and elimination programs.

“There are several Catholic charities and entities that are making significant contributions to global public health, including efforts to promote mass drug administration for human intestinal helminth infections,” said Dr. Hotez. “The next major advance for NTD control and elimination in Catholic-majority countries will come from relief organizations focusing their advocacy efforts to help national governments develop, finance and implement more effective programs to treat and prevent NTDs among their vulnerable populations.”

NTD treatment programs cost as little as US$0.50 annually per person and yield significant benefits that improve the health and livelihood of infected individuals. Broad-reaching NTD programs coordinated between Catholic charities, churches and national governments will directly benefit the 100-200 million Catholics suffering today from intestinal helminth infections, the roughly 30 million Catholics with schistosomiasis, and tens of millions with lymphatic filariasis and/or onchocerciasis.

Currently, seventeen out of the twenty-two Catholic-majority countries do not have NTD control programs supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID). Dr. Hotez believes other European countries, some emerging economies, and religious-based organizations, including Catholic charities and the Catholic Church, have an opportunity to lead NTD control campaigns in many endemic countries.

“By re-organizing some of their advocacy and resource mobilization efforts to build or strengthen national control programs in those 17 countries, in particular, the Catholic Church and relief organizations can deliver a lasting legacy of health and economic empowerment to millions of Catholics,” Dr. Hotez said.