Approximately 80 representatives from countries where yaws is endemic met in Geneva, Switzerland, to coordinate the launch of a worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease once and for all. The World Health Organization (WHO) decided to launch a campaign to eradicate yaws from the planet by 2020 after learning of the results of a study led by ISGlobal researchers that showed the efficacy of an oral treatment against the disease. Dr. Oriol Mitjà, one of the authors of the study, formed part of the working group that plans to make yaws the second disease ever to be wiped off the planet, the first being smallpox.
Yaws is a chronic neglected tropical disease, similar to syphilis, that primarily affects the skin and bones of children and can cause severe bone deformities in the long term. It is endemic in at least 14 countries and is particularly prevalent in poor rural communities in tropical countries. In a previous eradication campaign headed by the WHO and UNICEF in 46 countries between 1952 and 1964, the use of penicillin injections led to a 95% reduction in the prevalence of yaws. However, a slackening in efforts led to the resurgence of the disease in poor communities in Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific.
In an article published in the prestigious journal The Lancet, in February 2013, Dr. Mitjà published details of a strategy designed to eradicate yaws by 2020 that won the support of the WHO and the Carter Center's International Task Force for Disease Eradication. The strategy consists of launching, as soon as possible, a mass drug administration campaign in which patients will receive a single azithromycin pill that will cost barely €0.52. Azithromycin is an antibiotic used in Spain to treat bronchitis and ear and throat infections.
Yaws is a potentially eradicable disease, but one of the main obstacles to its eradication is a lack of funds for the campaign. As stated by Dr. Mitjà, yaws is one of the most neglected of all neglected diseases. Political commitment from countries in which yaws is endemic, together with support from the private sector and free access to the drug, will be a key factor in the success of the new worldwide campaign to eradicate yaws once and for all.