You've probably never heard of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), even though they are the most common afflictions of the world's poorest people -- more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. In all my travels to developing nations during 10 years of humanitarian efforts, I had not heard of them either. And that was shocking to me. How was it possible that diseases that make life miserable for one out of every six people on earth had gone virtually unnoticed?
I learned about NTDs when I heard Dr. Peter Hotez speak at least year's Clinton Global Initiative and I felt compelled to help raise awareness of this injustice. In the past year, we have made tremendous progress in educating people about the impact of NTDs on the developing world -- but the fact of the matter is that most people still don't know what they are.
These diseases are rightfully called "neglected" because the lives they destroy are those of "the poorest of the poor" -- one billion men, women and children who have no power, who have no voice. Diseases like river blindness, that's caused by black flies that bite their victims near the eyes and leave behind parasitic worms to destroy sight. And snail fever, which you get by simply bathing or washing in a stream, and which causes severe liver or kidney damage. And elephantiasis, so named because it leads to unspeakable deformities, like swelling of the legs to elephant-sized proportions, making even walking impossible. Beyond health, NTDs contribute to an ongoing cycle of poverty and stigma that leaves tens of millions unable to work, go to school or participate in family and community life. This cycle of poverty goes on and on, from generation to generation, trapping individuals, families and even entire communities in hopeless misery and despair.
But now, all this is finally changing... I am incredibly proud to join President Clinton and a number of political leaders, celebrities, athletes and global health experts in leading a call to action to stop NTDs now. On September 27, President Clinton focused the world's attention on NTDs by helping inaugurate a bold, new campaign to mobilize $25 million to control and prevent NTDs. It's the Sabin Vaccine Institute's STOP NTDs Campaign. Through STOP NTDs, we are asking people to sign an online petition calling on the U.S. Congress to create an NTD Day in 2008, and to increase funding for NTD control.
The good news -- no, the great news -- is that NTD control is, as Senator Ted Kennedy best describes it, "one of the best buys in public health." You can control and potentially eliminate the seven most common NTDs for just 50 cents per person, per year -- the average cost of parking your car at a meter for one hour, and a fraction of the cost of antiviral treatment for HIV/AIDS and mult-idrug therapy for tuberculosis.
Jackie Chan, Dikembe Mutombo, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Senator Kennedy and I are among the many people who are strongly supporting the STOP NTDs Campaign. Now, it's your turn to take action. Log on to www.stopntds.org, watch the campaign video and sign the online petition and, if you can, make a tax-deductible donation. Remember, just $25 will protect 50 people for an entire year.
Together, we can help lift the world's most neglected people out of poverty and disease.
So please join me today in the fight against NTDs.
Follow Alyssa Milano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Alyssa_Milano