Neglected Tropical Diseases

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of 17 infectious diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical areas. NTDs affect more than one billion people globally, in particular poor and marginalised populations. NTDs include for example soil-transmitted helminthiasis, sleeping sickness, chagas, buruli ulcer and leprosy. Several NTDs are close to elimination.

From Innovation and Validation to Application

Swiss TPH offers unique expertise in NTDs combining research, education and training, as well as project implementation. We work along a value chain from innovation to validation to application. With regards to innovation, examples include our work in helminth and protozoan drug development. We also validate novel approaches and  tools such as diagnostic tests for schistosomiasis and apply interventions in the field such as post-exposure prophylaxis for leprosy control.

A particular expertise of Swiss TPH is conducting multi-year intervention studies combining several approaches for the sustainable control of intestinal helminth andschistosome infections. In terms of NTDs, our work currently focuses on Eastern and Western Africa, Central, South and Southeast Asia, China and Latin America. Across these regions, we work closely with national programs and local academic institutions. Drawing on our in-house expertise in research and education and training, we are able to offer a unique range and depth of services to help control and eliminate NTDs.

Parasitic Worm Infections - Helminthiasis

Swiss TPH has is heavily involved in the research and control of parasitic worm infections. The work comprises teaching and training, mapping of risk areas, evaluating existing and developing new diagnostic tools, screening of new substances for their effectiveness against parasitic worms and supporting countries in building their control programmes.

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Sleeping Sickness

Swiss TPH has been researching sleeping sickness ever since its foundation and it was the first to succeed in breeding tsetse flies under laboratory conditions. Later, it was managed to develop culture systems for insects and pathogens, thereby laying the foundations for the compound screening laboratory.

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Buruli Ulcer

After tuberculosis and leprosy, Buruli ulcer (BU), caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, is the third most common mycobacterial disease. Western Africa is the region most affected by this chronic necrotising disease of the skin and the subcutaneous tissue. Clinical lesions usually start as painless nodules and if left untreated lead to massive destruction of skin and sometimes bone. While surgery has traditionally been the only recommended treatment for BU, in 2004 WHO published provisional guidelines recommending treatment with a combination of rifampicin and streptomycin for 8 weeks. The goal of our research is to improve the understanding of the pathogenesis, immunology and transmission of BU, to develop methods for early diagnosis and to investigate prospects for improving therapy and vaccine development.

Project on Buruli Ulcer in Cameroon

Leprosy

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects peripheral nerves and the skin. If untreated, it may lead to loss of sensation and result in serious disabilities. Even today, little is known about the transmission of leprosy, and the disease can only be diagnosed symptomatically. In 2000, global “elimination of leprosy as a public health problem” (i.e. a prevalence of less than 1 case per 10,000 persons) was declared by WHO. However, high endemic pockets still exist in many countries. Leprosy control poses a challenge to the health system as no simple biomedical diagnostic tools are available, asymptomatic infections with the potential to cause morbidity cannot be diagnosed and only experienced experts can diagnose early infections.

Project in post-exposure prophylaxis

Chagas

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis is caused by a parasite called Trypansosoma cruzi which is carried and transmitted by a triatomine bug. The estimation of infected people lies between 6 and 7 million worldwide, most of them in Latin America.

Rabies

Rabies is a viral zoonosis causing over 50,000 human deaths per year. The highly neurotropic virus is found in saliva of infected humans or animals. Rabies is transmitted to humans primarily through dogs (99%); this type is called “urban rabies”. After an infection, the disease is fatal as soon as typical symptoms appear (aggressiveness, agitation, hydrophobia). The only possibility to prevent human deaths is a post-exposure prophylaxis shortly after infection. Mass vaccination of susceptible animals and public education led to the elimination of the disease in many countries. But in many low-income settings, such as for instance in Chad, poverty, the lack of transport and knowledge hinders successful control of rabies.

Our work in eliminating rabies

Mass drug administration is a key intervention for NTD control