Bill and Melinda Gates Bet on the Elimination of Guinea Worm, Elephantiasis, Trachoma and Onchocerciasis

 

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In their Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates have one big bet: The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.

Considering the tremendous progress made in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), we couldn’t agree more. By advocating for the control and elimination of NTDs, the international community is making big strides to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Just last year, 800 million people were treated for NTDs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s NTD Program successfully delivered its one billionth NTD treatment. Echoing this momentum, NTD treatment continues to be recognized as a key tool for cutting extreme poverty. For example, the G7 and BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) recently made commitments to accelerate progress toward the global fight against NTDs.

NTDs are the most common affliction of the world’s poorest people, contributing to debilitating blindness, disfiguration and a number of harmful outcomes including school absenteeism, malnutrition and poor maternal and child health. This group of parasitic and bacterial infections is notorious for perpetuating poverty and undermining broader global development efforts. In order to end poverty and improve the lives of the poor, we must prioritize the control and elimination of NTDs.

In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates specifically call for the end of four NTDs: Guinea worm, elephantiasis, trachoma and onchocerciasis. They write:

“Destroying a disease utterly is a very difficult thing to do—so difficult, in fact, that it’s only happened once in history, when smallpox was eradicated in 1980. But if we keep working hard, we can eradicate four diseases by 2030. We can get polio out of Africa this year and out of every country in the world in the next several years. Guinea Worm, an incredibly painful disease whose sufferers spend months incapacitated while worms that can be several feet long burst out of their legs, will also be gone soon, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Carter and the Carter Center. We’ll also see the last of diseases like Elephantiasis, River Blindness, and Blinding Trachoma, which disable tens of millions of people in poor countries. The drugs that can stop these scourges are now being donated in huge numbers by pharmaceutical companies, and they’re being used more strategically thanks to advances in digital maps that show where diseases are most prevalent. Last year these free medicines were distributed to 800 million people.”

Bill and Melinda Gates’ important message injects new energy into the fight against NTDs. Their message is timely, following the recent appropriation by Congress of $100 million toward USAID’s NTD Program for FY 2015 and the launch of India’s ambitious campaign to treat more than 400 million people for elephantiasis, which if successful, could help India eliminate elephantiasis within the next few years and set a bold example for the world.

To read the full letter, click here. To read a statement from Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, click here.

Special Envoys Urge the Inclusion of NTDs within the Sustainable Development Goals

 

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In an effort to give greater visibility to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and the one billion people affected by them, three of the Global Network Special Envoys, H.E. Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen, H.E. John A Kufuour and Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in response to his recently released Synthesis Report on the post-2015 development agenda The report, entitled “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet,” provides a summary of the post-2015 process to date and is meant to serve as a guiding tool during upcoming intergovernmental negotiations.

The Global Network is very grateful to have such prestigious global health champions advocating on behalf of the 1.4 billion people who suffer from NTDs. In their letter, the Envoys encourage the Secretary General to recognize the importance of clearly identifying NTDs as a public health priority in order to unlock the economic and social potential of more than one billion people living in marginalized communities around the world.

NTDs are parasitic and bacterial infections that can cause impaired childhood growth and development, poor pregnancy outcomes, blindness and crippling physical disfigurements, as well as an increased likelihood of contracting HIV, thwarting opportunities for social progress and economic growth.

Even though NTDs were included in the Outcome Document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) in 2014, they are not specifically mentioned in the Synthesis Report. The Special Envoys urge the inclusion of NTDs in the final post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding sustainable development goals and indicators in order to give increased visibility to the people affected by these diseases. We have achieved impressive results in our efforts to control and eliminate NTDs over the past decade, however, both donor and endemic country governments must commit additional resources if NTDs are to be eliminated.

As the window to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) closes this year and we grow closer to finalizing the development goals that will shape the next 15 years, world leaders have an excellent opportunity to ensure that people suffering from preventable diseases have access to free and lifesaving medicines and are able to productively contribute to their communities.

A Wish List for 2015: 7 Achievable Victories in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases

 

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By Dr. Mirta Roses Periago

A new year always brings about new hope and renewed commitments. 2015 is a pivotal year for the international community and also for the call to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). So, here goes my “wish list” for 2015, which includes seven achievable yet ambitious victories for the global health and development community.

1. A step closer to declaring Latin America and the Caribbean free of river blindness

In 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world, as declared by the WHO to have eliminated river blindness transmission, and Ecuador followed shortly after in 2014. These countries show what can be achieved with unwavering political will and sustained action.

Mexico and Guatemala have stopped transmission of river blindness and are already in advanced stages with the WHO to take the final steps towards verifying elimination.

So, I am confident that Brazil and Venezuela will be successful in targeting the Americas’ final cases of river blindness, located along their borders among the indigenous Yanomami community. Through south south cooperation, they have joined forces to ensure that the all the Yanomami receive access to the treatments they need – tackling the last stronghold of river blindness in the region.

2. Progress towards eliminating lymphatic filariasis in the Latin America and the Caribbean

About 13.4 million people across the Latin American and Caribbean are at risk of lymphatic filariasis (LF), nearly 80 percent of them in Haiti. Despite challenges in recent years, including a cholera outbreak and earthquake, Haiti has been able to reach the entire population – about 10 million people – through mass drug administration (MDA). I hope to see continued support from the Haitian government and partners to interrupt the transmission of LF.

Additionally, I hope to see Brazil eliminate LF from the last active site in the country, located in the state of Pernambuco. Brazil has already eliminated LF in 8 states; this success is a clear reflection of their longstanding commitment and dedication to disease control and public health

3. The Inclusion of NTDs as part of Canada’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) policies and programs

Many of Canada’s priority partner countries carry significant burdens of malnutrition and NTDs, including Haiti, as well as Indonesia and Tanzania, posing a serious threat to maternal, newborn and child health. NTDs lead to stunting, wasting and the loss of Vitamin A and iron – hindering child growth and causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.

That is why I traveled to Ottawa last fall and called on Canadian policymakers to make sure that they integrate NTDs into their development strategies. Canada can help save lives and make a real difference for women and children by making sure that they have access to NTD treatments. This is a smart policy choice, one that could be financed through the Global Financing Facility for Every Woman, Every Child.

4. Regional Bodies translate promises into concrete action

Canada, Costa Rica and Brazil are among the 35 countries that passed a resolution in the Organization of American States in 2013, pledging to end the suffering of the 100 million people impacted by NTDs in the Americas. Health Ministers from Central America have also recognized the burden of NTDs, most recently at their 2013 regional meeting of the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA).

I hope that the OAS, COMISCA and other regional organizations will leverage these important policy commitments to catalyze greater financial support and partnerships – just as COMISCA did for malaria. In addition to discussing NTDs during their 2013 regional health summit, several countries rallied together to eliminate malaria in the region.

Partners followed suit and the Global Fund invested $10.2 million to support this regional initiative, adding to the national malaria grants already approved.  The results of these commitments are clear: malaria rates have been falling, often times dramatically, across Latin America– and the region is just steps always from eliminating this disease as a public health threat. This is an excellent example of how strong, united regional commitments can accelerate global health efforts – and one that can be applied to the fight against NTDs.

5. BRICS fight NTDs at home and abroad

Last December, the BRICS Health Ministers gathered in Brasilia for the 4th Health Ministers meeting, where they added NTDs to their collective agenda for the very first time. I am very excited to see the BRICS countries work together to help see the end of NTDs by 2020.

I encourage the BRICS to build on this commitment by continuing to prioritize NTDs within their own countries.  I also hope they will explore ways to fight NTDs across the globe. The New Development Bank could offer a venue for the BRICS to finance NTD control efforts as part of their broader sustainable development projects.

6. G7 leaders make financial commitments to end NTDs by 2020

The G7 is off to an excellent start in 2015. Neglected and poverty-related diseases made it onto the G7 agenda for the upcoming June 2015 Summit. This year is critical for the G7 to take immediate action to close the books on their unfulfilled promise to expand access to NTD treatments.

7. Post-2015 Development Agenda Includes NTDs

I’m looking forward to seeing how the post-2015 development agenda takes shape this year. We absolutely must utilize existing global health solutions – including the NTD treatments generously donated by pharmaceutical companies. I am happy that NTDs were included as a health priority in the final Sustainable Working Group framework. However, they were not specifically mentioned in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent synthesis report. If NTDs are not clearly identified in the final post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding sustainable development goals, they will once again remain as forgotten and invisible as the people and communities affected by them. Let us make them a health priority so that we can see the end of NTDs by 2020.

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