By Anjana Padmanabhan

What can 50 cents buy?

A pencil? Erasers? Gum?  Not really the essentials.

What if you found out that with just 50 cents you could save a life? That the change you find under the couch, or in your pockets could vastly improve a child’s future, or increase a woman’s access to education?

For many of us who are fortunate enough not to be part of the world’s  “bottom billion” (most of whom earn less than $1.25 per day), 50 cents doesn’t make much of a difference to our lives. But for those who live in areas ravaged by poverty and degradation, it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

So you must be wondering, how exactly can just 50 cents help save lives?

50 cents can buy vital medicines for someone who is suffering from one or more of the seven most common Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). NTDs are a group of 13 parasitic and bacterial infections that stigmatize, disable, and inhibit individuals from being able to care for themselves or their families—all of which promote poverty.

And they affect more than 1.4 billion people around the world.  Latin America, Asia and Africa are the most affected regions, with 90% of the disease burden.

Here are some quick facts on NTDs:

1. The global burden of the neglected tropical diseases is equivalent to at least half of the combined global burden of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

2. Children, women, and those living in remote areas with limited access to effective health care are most vulnerable to NTDs and their consequences, such as: malnutrition, anemia, serious or permanent disability (including blindness), illness, and death. Often, individuals are infected with multiple NTDs simultaneously.

3. NTDs are controllable and possibly eradicable by safe and effective drugs already in existence, many of which are donated by pharmaceutical companies (Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer).

Out of these 13, the seven most common NTDs infect over 1 billion people, most of whom simultaneously have more than one. The three most common NTDs — hookworm, roundworm, and whipworm — are parasitic worms transmitted by poor sanitation. Each of these worms infects over 600 million people worldwide, causing anemia, malnutrition, and underdevelopment in children. Lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne parasite that affects more than 120 million people, causes painful, disabling, and disfiguring swelling of the limbs and genitals. Onchocerciasis (AKA river blindness), affecting 37 million people, and trachoma, affecting 84 million worldwide, are two common NTDs which cause permanent blindness. The last of the seven is schistosomiasis, a parasite which results in complications such as liver disease, kidney disease, and bladder cancer in the more than 207 million people it affects.

Fortunately, there are signs of increased commitment towards combating these infections.  NTD treatment is a key part of the Obama Administration’s Global Health Initiative and various governmental and non-governmental organizations are moving to get the victims of NTDs the treatments they need.

The organization I work for, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, is one of those organizations. The Global Network serves as an advocacy platform for NTD treatment worldwide. We work with the World Health Organization and other technical agencies, NGOs, donors, and the broader public health community to get those who are suffering from or who are at risk for NTDs, the drugs, treatment, and education they need to live a life free of the burden of NTDs. More information about the Global Network and what we can do can be found at our website. You can also keep up with news and developments in the NTD field at our blog, End the Neglect.

Anjana Padmanabhan is a Communications Associate at the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, and is responsible for developing communications strategies, harnessing media outreach, and utilizing social networking tools for the Global Network.