What are Neglected Diseases?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Neglected diseases are diseases found primarily among poor populations, particularly in developing nations. Drug companies and other organizations involved in infectious disease control may be reluctant to pursue research on these diseases because of the low possibilities for return. This contrasts with diseases seen among wealthier populations with the ability to pay for expensive treatments. International government agencies like the World Health Organization work on identifying and combating neglected diseases, as do some nonprofit charity organizations concerned with global health issues.

Most of these conditions are infectious diseases that spread in the human population as a result of limited infrastructure. Limited access to health care, clean water, and education are common in areas with neglected diseases. These diseases can affect large numbers of people and may be significant contributors to morbidity and mortality in their home regions. Lack of research and drug development makes minimal treatment options available when it comes to managing neglected diseases on the ground.

Some examples of neglected diseases include leishmaniasis, malaria, and hookworm. Charitable organizations combating neglected diseases apply a number of techniques to their work. Some organizations conduct demographic and epidemiological studies to learn more about the characteristics of a neglected disease. Others may focus on infrastructure improvements like developing access to clean drinking water to cut down on the spread of disease. Government initiatives may encourage drug companies to invest in developing products to treat these diseases, and incentive programs to cut costs may increase availability of drugs.


Many neglected diseases are tropical diseases, reflecting the fact that many areas of the tropics span developing nations. Research into tropical medicine is of little interest in more temperate climates, unless a nation's military is active in the tropics, and it can be difficult to persuade drug companies to invest in tropical medicine. Health charities are often at the forefront of research and development, and their work can include spurring government agencies into action.

Consultants may provide services to regional governments working on eradication and control of neglected diseases. Governments with limited health budgets may need assistance from charities and other nations when it comes to identifying the most efficient and effective way of combating disease. One technique commonly used is replication of a successful control and eradication program from another country. If a program works in one region, it may be very effective in another, as long as it faces similar health challenges and concerns.


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