Last week, during the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) 52nd Directing Council, NTD Special Envoy Álvaro Arzú, mayor of Guatemala City and former President of Guatemala, was asked to comment on the challenges of controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the region of the Americas. The interview (in Spanish) can be found below and you can read on to see what was discussed. To read more about the NTDs discussions held during the 52nd Directing Council, read our recap here.
PAHO: What are the challenges for mobilizing the agenda of neglected diseases in the region of the Americas?
NTD Special Envoy Álvaro Arzú: I think the biggest challenge is giving the issue the real importance it deserves. Indeed, when I was President, I was not informed of the relevance that neglected diseases have, that these diseases exist, and that they can be treated at a very low cost. But by not treating these diseases – their impact on the economy of a country is vast. If I had been told that story, I would have taken action.. So I think that the first and major challenge is to communicate to the heads of government and the people in decision-making positions, about the importance of coordinating a joint effort to distribute these drugs, which are very cheap — and most are actually donated by pharmaceutical companies. And what is needed are the logistics to reach the communities that are in need of this medicine, which treats NTDs that are often overlooked because they are most prevalent in areas of extreme poverty. But today we know that a pill that costs 50 cents can treat and protect a person for one year. Now you can have a more or less definite solution.
PAHO: What is PAHO’s role in the fight against these diseases?
NTD Special Envoy Álvaro Arzú: Well, [it is] very important, because its role is precisely to coordinate all government agencies in the countries where we are still vulnerable to these diseases – to coordinate everyone in this effort. And you may be wondering what a mayor has to do with this matter? Well, I act as a spokesperson, really, of the organization – a Special Envoy, that is the term they have used – to give prominence or relevance to the topic. I think this is the main and first challenge we need to face, because people do not recognize the significance that this problem has within our countries.