Modelling morbidity for neglected tropical diseases: the long and winding road from cumulative exposure to long-term pathology
Reducing the morbidities caused by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is a central aim of ongoing disease control programmes. The broad spectrum of pathogens under the umbrella of NTDs lead to a range of negative health outcomes, from malnutrition and anaemia to organ failure, blindness and carcinogenesis. For some NTDs, the most severe clinical manifestations develop over many years of chronic or repeated infection. For these diseases, the association between infection and risk of long-term pathology is generally complex, and the impact of multiple interacting factors, such as age, co-morbidities and host immune response, is often poorly quantified. Mathematical modelling has been used for many years to gain insights into the complex processes underlying the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases; however, long-term morbidities associated with chronic or cumulative exposure are generally not incorporated into dynamic models for NTDs. Here we consider the complexities and challenges for determining the relationship between cumulative pathogen exposure and morbidity at the individual and population levels, drawing on case studies for trachoma, schistosomiasis and foodborne trematodiasis. We explore potential frameworks for explicitly incorporating long-term morbidity into NTD transmission models, and consider the insights such frameworks may bring in terms of policy-relevant projections for the elimination era.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Challenges and opportunities in the fight against neglected tropical diseases: a decade from the London Declaration on NTDs’.