In a striking and emotional moment, Abhishek Bachchan, who has been named the first END7 Campaign Ambassador in India by The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network), poured water over the feet of an elderly man suffering from lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), a debilitating and disfiguring neglected tropical disease (NTD), at the Banamalipur Resource Centre run by Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) just outside of Bhubaneswar in Orissa, India. The eastern state of Orissa has one of the highest burdens of NTDs in the country.
Mr. Bachchan met with women and men suffering from lymphatic filariasis. These patients shared heartbreaking stories with him, including how the stigma and shame associated with the disease’s massive swelling prevented them or their children from marrying, securing employment and socializing freely within their own communities. He also witnessed first-hand various disease management and disability prevention techniques, including washing, drying, exercise, massage, and elevation of the limbs, to alleviate some of the suffering.
“We have a staggering proportion of fellow Indians who are infected by or at risk of contracting at least one NTD.” said Mr. Bachchan. “My first site visit with END7 has been a deeply moving, personal experience that allowed me to understand how these diseases can devastate entire families through the pain and stigma they cause,” he continued. “We are making good progress and have free, safe treatments available. But we must build greater momentum and every Indian should do their part to help make defeating NTDs by 2020 our country’s next big health success story.”
Maintaining the progress that India has gained against NTDs is crucial as India comes closer to achieving the control and elimination of five NTDs by 2020. Mr Bachchan will play a key role in drawing attention to NTDs as an achievable health priority for India, educating the public about the impact of NTDs and the importance of public participation in free NTD treatment programs, whilst also encouraging national and state level policymakers to continue making the cost-effective investment in NTD programs.
“The lymphatic filariasis centre that we visited today is at the forefront of India’s efforts to combat NTDs,” said Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, the initiative behind the END7 campaign. “CASA has a winning model, treating over 20,000 LF patients and providing cost effective medicines to prevent thousands more cases of LF in Orissa. By integrating NTD programs with other health initiatives on water, sanitation and nutrition, this centre is a micro example of what India can achieve with NTD control and elimination programs at greater scale.” Lymphatic filariasis, along with other NTDs, can be prevented with a yearly dose of albendazole or DEC.
Pills to treat the most common NTDs are donated by pharmaceutical companies or procured by the Indian government, offered free of charge to the public. Many NTD programs use existing infrastructure, such as schools and community centers, to administer the medicine, making NTD treatment one of the most cost-effective public health initiatives available today END7 is the first and only global public awareness campaign dedicated to controlling and eliminating the seven most common NTDs by 2020. It was launched in 2012 by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an advocacy initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.