More than half of the world’s population is at risk of helminthiases (parasitic worms), and hundreds of millions of people are currently infected with one or more helminth species. Consequences of chronic infection include suffering, stigmatization, subtle and gross morbidity, and premature death. These infections are associated with low work productivity, poor cognitive performance, and slow socioeconomic development, thereby contributing to accentuate poverty and inequality.
The April 2012 issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases features the launch of a new collection, “A research agenda for the control and elimination of human helminthiases.” The collection includes a series of eight reviews from the Disease Reference Group on Helminth Infections (DRG4) that, taken together, outline a research and development (R&D) agenda for the control and elimination of helminth diseases of humans. Emphasis is placed on six major helminth diseases: soil-transmitted helminthiasis; schistosomiasis; lymphatic filariasis; onchocerciasis; food-borne trematodiasis; and cysticercosis/taeniasis. Additionally, an Editorial from Jürg Utzinger provides an overview to all eight reviews and emphasizes the importance of continued research on these six diseases, which together have an enormous global health impact.
Controlling and eventually eradicating major human helminthiases will take commitment at all levels – from local communities to politicians, philanthropic organisations, and civil societies. Although some of the necessary policies outlined in the collection have been implemented by various bodies, additional implementation and coordination is necessary. The series aims to move beyond providing a reference for researchers on existing and known issues in the field and instead plots a course for policymakers, researchers, and funding bodies in key areas to target in the ongoing campaign to eliminate helminthiases.
DRG4, chaired by Sara Lustigman and co-chaired by Boakye A. Boatin, was given the mandate to undertake a comprehensive review of recent advances in helminthiases research, identify research gaps, and rank priorities for an R&D agenda for the control and elimination of these infections. The 14 members of DRG4 are academic or public health leaders at world-class research institutions, international bodies, and public health and governmental organizations. This group of eight reviews on helminth infections was developed out of analyses and deliberations by the group members conducted during 2010 and 2011.
DRG4 is part of an independent “think tank” of international experts, established and funded by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), to identify key research priorities through the review of research evidence and input from stakeholder consultations. TDR is a programme based at and executed by the World Health Organization (WHO), and co-sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, and the WHO. For more information on the TDR Think Tank and the resulting reports, please visit: http://www.who.int/tdr/stewardship/research-think-tank/en/.