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Protecting Health

Preventing and Eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases: Why it Matters

Neglected Tropical Diseases – or NTDs – cause blindness, painful physical deformities, and disabilities that trigger great stigma and limit people’s ability to earn income and fulfill their potential. These diseases are preventable, but they disproportionately affect the world’s poorest, most marginalized people who lack access to basic health care, which is why they are often referred to as “diseases of poverty.” Prevalence of NTDs in vulnerable communities can perpetuate a cycle of poverty, limiting economic opportunities and contributing to other health problems.

These age-old diseases include trachoma, river blindness, intestinal worms and other debilitating, painful, and sometimes deadly illnesses. According to the World Health Organization, these diseases affect one in every five people on the planet, including 875 million children, and are responsible for more than 500,000 deaths each year.

Since 2012, we have seen unprecedented leadership from the World Health Organization, local leaders and governments of affected countries, and major donor agencies. We have also seen the transformative impact of donations of vital drugs from pharmaceutical companies—reinforced by the mobilization of funding and expertise from the private sector and coordinated action from international development organizations and civil society.

In a relatively brief period, the initiative to beat NTDs has become one of the largest, most successful public health movements in history.

In 2020 alone, Helen Keller will support countries to distribute over 30 million doses of drugs to treat NTDs. We are leading efforts to eliminate trachoma in Mali and Niger through a partnership funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Since 2009, Helen Keller has supported almost 10,000 sight-saving trichiasis surgeries in Mali and almost 20,000 in Niger. Through the USAID MMDP project, we screened more than 2 million people for trichiasis and saved the sight of 76,000 people with trichiasis surgery. Our programs provided treatment to thousands more people infected with lymphatic filariasis.

Helen Keller is a partner in the USAID-funded Act to End NTDs | West* consortium led by FHI 360, which supports 11 countries in West Africa to achieve their goals in controlling and eliminating NTDs. We are thrilled to be part of this exciting partnership and to be working in solidarity with country leadership to advance momentum in eliminating these diseases.


Since the 1950s, Helen Keller International has supported the control and treatment of trachoma in Africa. To date we have helped deliver tens of thousands of sight-saving trachoma surgeries in poor communities and will continue working toward the global trachoma elimination date of 2020.

River Blindness

We have helped develop an effective and efficient platform that reaches tens of millions of people across Africa each year for the prevention and treatment of river blindness.

Intestinal Worms

As young children are especially vulnerable to infection, we help developing countries effectively and efficiently provide deworming medication and health education for children in at-risk communities.

Lymphatic Filariasis

Working with national governments in countries with the highest rates of affliction, we are helping communities not only eliminate this devastating disease, but treat those suffering from physical disabilities caused by the infection.

Snail Fever

Schistosomiasis, commonly known as snail fever, impacts nearly 261 million people, causing potential organ damage and poor health.

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