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Open Access Opinion

The role of nutrition in integrated programs to control neglected tropical diseases

Andrew Hall1*, Yaobi Zhang2, Chad MacArthur3 and Shawn Baker2

Author affiliations

1 Centre for Public Health Nutrition, School of Life Sciences, University of Westminster, 115 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6UW, UK

2 Helen Keller International, Regional Office for Africa, BP 29.898, Dakar-Yoff, Senegal

3 Helen Keller International, 352 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10010, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Medicine 2012, 10:41  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-41

Published: 25 April 2012


There are strong and direct relationships between undernutrition and the disease caused by infectious organisms, including the diverse pathogens labeled as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Undernutrition increases the risk of infection, the severity of disease and the risk that children will die, while the physical damage, loss of appetite, and host responses during chronic infection can contribute substantially to undernutrition. These relationships are often synergistic. This opinion article examines the role of nutrition in controlling NTDs and makes the point that mass drug treatment - the major strategy currently proposed to control several diseases - is crucial to controlling disease and transmission, but is only the start of the process of physical recovery. Without adequate energy and nutrients to repair damaged tissues or recover lost growth and development, the benefits of treatment may not be evident quickly; the effects of control programs may be not appreciated by beneficiaries; while vulnerability to reinfection and disease may not be reduced. There is substantial potential for nutritional interventions to be added to large-scale programs to deliver drug treatments and thereby contribute, within a broad strategy of public health interventions and behavior change activities, to controlling and preventing NTDs in populations, and to restoring their health.

Neglected tropical diseases; control programs; undernutrition; micronutrients