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Progress and Challenges for Neglected Tropical Diseases: An Anniversary Assessment

This year PLOS celebrates the 10th anniversary of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases (PLOS NTDs). The festivities are off to an impressive start with a strong presence at the 2017 NTD Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, a 10th Anniversary Collection, a blog post outlining anniversary launch activities and a PLOS NTDS 10th Anniversary landing page that will be updated throughout the celebration.

But what, exactly, are NTDs? They are a diverse group of communicable diseases that flourish in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries, costing developing economies billions of dollars every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). NTDs mainly affect populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors, domestic animals and livestock. In addition to causing mortality, NTDs remain an impediment to poverty reduction and socioeconomic development (WHO). Approximately 1.2 billion people globally have their quality of life and economic productivity diminished by NTDs.

In this context, however, there has been tremendous progress in the past five years. “For some diseases we’re ahead of our 2020 targets,” says Dirk Engels, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. WHO, Uniting to Combat NTDs and the NTD community collaborated to host the recent 2017 NTD Summit celebrating the 5th year since the signing of the London Declaration, a collaborative disease eradication program inspired by the WHO 2020 roadmap to eradicate or negate transmission for at least ten NTDs.

Partnering with summit organizers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, PLOS NTDs – on the occasion of its 10th anniversary – co-hosted a panel at the summit with PLOS NTDs co-Editor-in-Chief Peter Hotez and PLOS Executive Editor Veronique Kiermer as moderators. The panel brought together experts on lymphatic filariasis, soil-transmitted helminth infection and schistosomiasis, all who have been involved with the journal either as frequent contributors or editors. These leading scientists from the WHO Regional Director’s Office of Africa (drawing on expertise gained in Tanzania); the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka; and the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, People’s Republic of China participated in an engaging discussion of how providing access to publication – as a reader, author and editor – can help build capacity for research in disease-endemic countries.

Published in parallel with the panel, the Symposium article “Partnering to Promote Research Where It Matters” focuses on capacity-building efforts and the positive impact of Open Access scientific literature for those working in disease-endemic countries. In China, “We work together on issues like health education, behavior change, and communication skills,” says panelist Xiao-Nong Zhou, Director of the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our university could only afford a very restricted number of titles,” says Nilanthi de Silva, parasitologist at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. PLOS NTDs (and other Open Access journals publishing NTD-related research) offers an essential venue for researchers in low- and middle-income countries. Of the papers published to date, 25% have at least one author from Africa and 23% have an author from South America.

It is possible that nearly half of the current NTDs could be eliminated, eradicated or show significant gains in these directions within the decade. That would take continued dedication, and funding. “The last decade has seen a mixed picture when it comes to success stories in the progress to control or eliminate the world’s NTDs,” acknowledge PLOS NTDs Editors-in-Chief Serap Aksoy and Peter Hotez. According to David Molyneux, Emeritus Professor Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and lead of their overarching Neglected Tropical Diseases program, “The future is going to be about building capacity for NTDs and recognizing that we’re talking about a broader problem of sustainable development.” Molyneux is a long-term editorial advisor for PLOS NTDs.

In the 10th Anniversary Collection, Editorial Board members and other experts examine this progress in 20 of the major NTDs over the last decade. Those familiar with these diseases, those wanting a comprehensive overview or those wanting to focus on a specific disease will find in the collection reflections on significant lessons and successes as well as remaining challenges. The collection lays out a roadmap for future research priorities and identifies key opportunities for further progress in disease elimination. The Editorial by Aksoy and Hotez, “PLOS NTDS: Ten Years of Progress in Neglected Tropical Disease Control and Elimination…More or Less, provides an excellent introduction to the PLOS NTDs Tenth Anniversary Collection.

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation PLOS NTDs was founded to represent the needs of a community of scientists, public health experts and global advocates working on diseases of the poor and simultaneously to be a capacity-building tool for disease experts living and working in Africa and other disease-endemic regions of the world. Since founding, the journal has published over 4,700 articles (Research Articles, Editorials, Viewpoints, Policy Platforms, From Innovation to Application articles and more) written by more than 8,000 authors. Currently 40% of the journal’s 255 editorial board members are from disease-endemic countries. For more details of the journal’s history and impact over the past ten years, see the Editorial, “The PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases Decade.”

Journal editors and staff have worked diligently on its dual mission to build capacity and encourage the submission and publication of the work of authors living and conducting research in disease-endemic countries. Editors have hosted 26 writing workshops in affected countries around the globe and provide training on best practices to ensure robust peer review, avoid plagiarism, handle data management and address other issues of research integrity. They also cover tips on crafting comments to authors and editing decision letters. These activities build a strong NTDs community to ensure ongoing success of the journal and scientific endeavors related to NTDs research.

So bookmark the 10th Anniversary landing page, browse the 10th Anniversary Collection and celebrate 10 years of advancing research, policy and progress in combatting NTDs. There’s more work to be done!

 

Image Credit:

Emma Burns, A Ray of Hope

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