General TY Danjuma, chairman of the TY Danjuma Foundation, knows what it’s like to suffer from an NTD. During his time in the Nigerian army, Danjuma contracted onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness) and felt the pain and discomfort of tiny worms crawling through his skin. He was treated in a few weeks and went on to have a successful career in the army and in the Nigerian government. But, as a result of his experience, Danjuma recognizes the need for programs to control onchocerciasis and other NTDs.
“It’s heartbreaking that lives continue to be destroyed,” Danjuma said at an event hosted recently by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) and the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Danjuma is at the forefront of a new philanthropic movement where Africans are helping fellow Africans. At the event, Danjuma, along with representatives from the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and CSIS, discussed how this kind of emerging African leadership will help make NTD elimination possible. Several other groups are also joining this movement—including pharmaceutical companies, philanthropic organizations, governments, and not-for-profit groups—focusing on how to improve access to vital medicines, strengthen health systems for NTD control and develop new treatments.
NTDs are a group of diseases that affect more than one billion people worldwide, primarily those living in the world’s poorest communities. They can cause blindness or disfigurement and they keep kids from learning and adults from leading productive lives. Speakers at the CSIS event agreed that the time is now to take action and make NTD control a global health priority.
This movement has already begun. Last month, at an event called the London Declaration, pharmaceutical companies, governments and global health organizations committed to eliminating ten NTDs by 2020 by increasing drug donations, expanding drug and health service delivery programs and investing in research and development to find the best solutions for NTD control. In Africa, General Danjuma rallied African governments and development organizations to support the continuation of the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), which led to large contributions from Nigerian officials and from the Nigerian government. Despite the fact that President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget request proposed a 24 percent reduction to NTD control and elimination efforts, the financial commitments made by African leaders and at the London Declaration signify that there is momentum to eliminate NTDs. It is critical that the US Government is a part of this movement.
Also speaking at the event, Dr. Donald Bundy, lead health specialist for Africa at the World Bank, commended General Danjuma and other African leaders working to improve the health and the lives of Africa’s neglected people, the people “at the end of the road.” Drs. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network, and Julie Jacobson, senior program officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, reminded us that there is also a role for everyone in the fight against NTDs. With popular support, the NTD community will also have a stronger pull on political will, which is especially important in NTD endemic countries.
According to Dr. Mistry, this was the rationale behind launching the Global Network’s new campaign, END7, which invites all people to be a part of the elimination of NTDs. For just 50 cents, anyone around the world can help treat a person for an entire year. Even this small donation will help people be a part of the collaboration that is necessary to make the end of NTDs truly possible.