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A new report by the Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Modelling Consortium suggests that though COVID-19 has interrupted many key NTD programs, with prompt action and intensified strategies, the impact could be mitigated. Once interventions are reintroduced, there is an opportunity for NTD programs to accelerate progress towards the 2030 goals. Tactics such as intensifying the coverage or frequency of interventions could mean the current interruption to NTD programs doesn’t need to undermine hard-won progress.

The report published by Clinical Infectious Diseases, shows that the impact of ongoing disruptions, such as to mass drug administration, NTD surveys and active case finding, will vary across diseases and geographies.

Mathematical modelling reveals that in some communities, yesterday’s progress is helping temporarily withstand today’s shock. Programs in later stages - which have managed to reduce or control transmission - will experience lower levels of disease resurgence, provided the residual transmission rate is not too high. However, where NTD programs were just getting started, gains are more at risk.

Of the diseases where mass drug administration is used as an intervention, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, and trachoma are more likely to have a resurgence. Gambiense sleeping sickness and visceral leishmaniasis, which use active case detection as an intervention, may face an increasing underlying rate of infection despite fewer cases being detected.

Professor Deirdre Hollingsworth, principal investigator of the NTD Modelling Consortium and a senior group leader at the Big Data Institute, said: “COVID-19 poses many practical challenges for neglected tropical disease programs. Our analyses suggest that the impact of delays to treatments and case finding can be mitigated, and progress towards the 2030 goals could even be accelerated, with appropriate intervention strategies.”