The World Health Organisation has urged affected countries to scale up their investment in tackling 17 neglected tropical diseases to improve the lives of more than 1.5 billion people.

The agency has issued a report recommending that about 150 affected countries need to spend a total of $2.9 billion annually until 2020 to reduce the effects of NTDs. Investment requirements for the subsequent decade would drop to $1.6 billion annually as the diseases are reduced or eliminated.

The total spend over 16 years adds up to $34 billion, the WHO says, and excludes cost of donated medicines and other in-kind contributions. It argues that this investment would represent as little as 0.1% of current domestic expenditure on health in affected low- and middle-income countries for the period 2015-2030.

The report notes that progress has been made in recent years, stating that in 2012 alone, more than 800 million people were treated for at least one neglected tropical disease. In 2014, there were just 126 cases reported of Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease), compared to almost 1800 in 2010 and 3.5 million in the mid-1980s.

In 2013, Colombia became the first country where WHO verified the elimination of river blindness (onchocerciasis), followed by Ecuador in 2014, while Bangladesh and Nepal are poised to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis as a public-health problem by the end of 2015.

Dirk Engels, director of the WHO control of NTD department, said that some of them “are no longer strictly tropical” and the potential for spread “provides yet another strong argument for making the needed investments – while ramping up R&D efforts – to bring all these diseases under control and eliminate as many of them as rapidly as possible”.