Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are detrimental to the physical health and economic potential of people infected. The effects of moderate to severe NTD infection – anemia, malnutrition, blindness, massive swelling of the limbs – make it difficult or even impossible for those who are infected to contribute to their local economy.
NTDs can prevent children from attending and performing well in school, limiting opportunities to find employment later in life. These diseases leave young adults unable to work and produce crops that feed and support their families, thereby impairing agriculture productivity. For example, the effects of lymphatic filariasis — including huge swelling of the limbs — can leave subsistence farmers unable to walk, preventing them from working each day. Prior to the initiation of the Onchocerciasis Control Program (OCP) and African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), onchocerciasis infected 40 million people in 11 countries in West Africa blinding many farmers. As a result, communities had to abandon more than 25 million hectares of arable land throughout West Africa.
Lymphatic filariasis and trachoma, two NTDs that cause severe physical debilitation, can also have economic repercussions. In India, lymphatic filariasis used to cause an estimated US $1.5 billion loss in GNP each year. For the ten million people living with trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, the disease translates into an estimated $2.9 billion in lost productivity annually — enough to keep poor families trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Various studies have shown that eliminating or controlling NTDs would have a beneficial impact on the economic development of affected areas. Controlling soil-transmitted helminthes (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm) have been linked to increases in future earning capacity. A study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that controlling hookworm alone could lead to an increase of more than 40 percent in future wage earnings. This link between NTD infection and improved economic opportunity was also strengthened through research in Kenya, which showed that deworming could increase per capita earning by 30 percent.