‘One billion people are affected by neglected tropical diseases.’

They may not make the headlines, but neglected tropical diseases are still a health risk to many. In this interview, Dr Christina Kreuzberg from GIZ Medical Services explains that a great deal of suffering can be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment. GIZ not only educates its own staff on the issue, but also shares its experience with experts worldwide in order to advance general health care. 

Ulrike Scheffer

Dr Kreuzberg, what are neglected tropical diseases? And what is unique about them?
There are 20 illnesses globally that are classified as neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs for short. They generally only occur in particular regions and have received little attention, yet they affect over one billion people. Most NTDs can be treated effectively in principle. However, because they are found primarily in the Global South, patients often have difficulty accessing appropriate medical treatment. This means that these diseases pose a substantial health risk to people in the affected regions.

Dr Christina Kreuzberg is a specialist in tropical and internal medicine at GIZ Medical Services
Dr Christina Kreuzberg is a specialist in tropical and internal medicine at GIZ Medical Services

Can you provide some examples?
The highly infectious bacterial eye infection trachoma is widespread in many tropical countries. When treated with antibiotics, it soon clears up. However, if left untreated, it can lead to blindness, a fate still suffered by several million people. Schistosomiasis, a particularly insidious disease, is caused by a freshwater parasite entering the skin. This can occur when bathing, washing laundry, fishing or even when showering with water supplied from nearby rivers and lakes. This parasite can cause considerable harm. A schistosomiasis infection can go undetected for a long time. However, it can be treated effectively if discovered early enough, for instance through antibody testing or if worm eggs are found in stool or urine.

Do you also deal with the three major infectious diseases alongside your work on NTDs?
Of course. As a global seconding organisation, we have gained a wealth of experience with many infectious diseases. The public is generally far more aware of malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis than NTDs. However, malaria prevention is also an extremely important topic to address when providing medical advice in relation to travel abroad.  

Dr Christina Kreuzberg is a specialist in tropical and internal medicine and has been working at GIZ Medical Services since 2015. Prior to this, she worked for the Hamburg-based Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and also spent time in Ghana.


Medical Services is responsible for providing occupational health services and medical care to all of GIZ’s workforce in Germany and abroad. At the same time, it also advises accompanying family members/partners on health matters.



Is society benefiting from the experience of GIZ Medical Services?
We share our experience with other experts and give presentations at medical conferences and elsewhere. Additionally, a colleague and I are members of the Standing Travel Medicine Committee (StAR) of the German Society for Tropical Medicine, Travel Medicine and Global Health (DTG). We work with others to formulate the DTG recommendations on malaria prevention and travel vaccines. Here at GIZ, we can make a particular contribution through our insights on travel to rural regions and our experience with pregnant travellers and accompanying children. These insights reach GPs and others via the DTG recommendations, thus benefiting a great many people.

Facts and figures

Medical Services supports between 3,000 and 3,500 GIZ employees on assignment abroad each year.


It provides 1,000 consultations for staff in the field or their families.

Will tropical diseases become more of an issue in Europe too, and not just in a travel context?
The rise in temperatures caused by climate change is facilitating the spread of tropical diseases in northern climes. Schistosomiasis, for instance, has now been detected on Corsica. And mosquitoes carrying diseases such as dengue fever and the Zika virus have been surviving outside of traditional tropical regions for quite a while. So we can expect to come into contact with these diseases far more frequently in future, including in Europe. 

September 2022