Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are named as such because they don’t tend to be high on the world’s priorities list. The World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC and other infectious disease experts around the world disagree on the specifics of what does and does not belong to the list of NTDs, but according to WHO they “prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries,” affecting well over a billion people. They are considered “neglected” because treatment can be relatively cheap and easy to produce in some cases, but still remain a problem due to the inaccessibility of said treatments in many remote or poor areas. The CDC says that,

NTDs affect the world’s poorest people and are especially common in tropical areas, where people have little access to clean water or proper ways to dispose of human waste. Women and children who live in unsanitary environments face the biggest threat of NTDs.”

The “pesky sand fly” | Wikimedia Commons

An aid worker in the northern parts of Pakistan describes seeing such a disease prevalent in Pakistan, and the issue had also affected troops in Afghanistan from time to time as they were obviously not always operating in the most sanitary of conditions. The NTD was leishmaniasis, “spread by those pesky sand flies,” the aid worker said.

The military has had a rocky history with leishmaniasis, the disease that manifests itself in nasty, deformative ulcers on the skin and even parts of the face. In the Gulf War, the military even cancelled a program combating leishmaniasis, but had to abruptly restart it when cases started popping up again. The U.S. has been cutting back on combating tropical diseases from the get-go, further contributing to the “neglected” status of the NTDs. Even AFRICOM, who operates in the areas most prevalent with NTDs, continue to cut back on these programs with the continuous budget cuts in the past decades. According to the CDC, leishmaniasis appears in two forms, culminating in anywhere between 0.6 million cases a year to 1.6 million cases a year, so you can see the research is clearly scant.