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Adv Parasitol. 2006;61:1-45.

Control of human parasitic diseases: Context and overview.

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  • 1Lymphatic Filariasis Support Centre, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool, L3 5QA, UK.


The control of parasitic diseases of humans has been undertaken since the aetiology and natural history of the infections was recognized and the deleterious effects on human health and well-being appreciated by policy makers, medical practitioners and public health specialists. However, while some parasitic infections such as malaria have proved difficult to control, as defined by a sustained reduction in incidence, others, particularly helminth infections can be effectively controlled. The different approaches to control from diagnosis, to treatment and cure of the clinically sick patient, to control the transmission within the community by preventative chemotherapy and vector control are outlined. The concepts of eradication, elimination and control are defined and examples of success summarized. Overviews of the health policy and financing environment in which programmes to control or eliminate parasitic diseases are positioned and the development of public-private partnerships as vehicles for product development or access to drugs for parasite disease control are discussed. Failure to sustain control of parasites may be due to development of drug resistance or the failure to implement proven strategies as a result of decreased resources within the health system, decentralization of health management through health-sector reform and the lack of financial and human resources in settings where per capita government expenditure on health may be less than $US 5 per year. However, success has been achieved in several large-scale programmes through sustained national government investment and/or committed donor support. It is also widely accepted that the level of investment in drug development for the parasitic diseases of poor populations is an unattractive option for pharmaceutical companies. The development of partnerships to specifically address this need provides some hope that the intractable problems of the treatment regimens for the trypanosomiases and leishmaniases can be solved in the not too distant future. However, it will be difficult to implement and sustain such interventions in fragile health services often in settings where resources are limited but also in unstable, conflict-affected or post-conflict countries. Emphasis is placed on the importance of co-endemicity and polyparasitism and the opportunity to control parasites susceptible to cost-effective and proven chemotherapeutic interventions for a package of diseases which can be implemented at low cost and which would benefit the poorest and most marginalized groups. The ecology of parasitic diseases is discussed in the context of changing ecology, environment, sociopolitical developments and climate change. These drivers of global change will affect the epidemiology of parasites over the coming decades, while in many of the most endemic and impoverished countries parasitic infections will be accorded lower priority as resourced stressed health systems cope with the burden of the higher-profile killing diseases viz., HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. There is a need for more holistic thinking about the interactions between parasites and other infections. It is clear that as the prevalence and awareness of HIV has increased, there is a growing recognition of a host of complex interactions that determine disease outcome in individual patients. The competition for resources in the health as well as other social sectors will be a continuing challenge; effective parasite control will be dependent on how such resources are accessed and deployed to effectively address well-defined problems some of which are readily amenable to successful interventions with proven methods. In the health sector, the problems of the HIV/AIDS and TB pandemics and the problem of the emerging burden of chronic non-communicable diseases will be significant competitors for these limited resources as parasitic infections aside from malaria tend to be chronic disabling problems of the poorest who have limited access to scarce health services and are representative of the poorest quintile. Prioritization and advocacy for parasite control in the national and international political environments is the challenge.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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