The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have a unique opportunity to lead the world in eliminating the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Released just ahead of the BRICS annual meetings, a paper published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, explains how the BRICS could draw upon their own experiences tackling domestic global health challenges to further advance global efforts to control and eliminate NTDs by 2020.
In their paper, titled BRICS in the response to neglected tropical diseases, authors Amber Cashwell, Anupama Tantri, Ashley Schmidt, Neeraj Mistry and Greg Simon call on the BRICS to lead the rest of the world by example. The BRICS countries – in particular, India and Brazil– shoulder a large NTD burden. By scaling up their own domestic NTD programs, the BRICS can help close the global NTD treatment gap and lead by example.
In addition, the authors call on the BRICS to pursue opportunities for joint cooperation. The annual BRICS Heads of State and Health Ministers meetings offer platforms where BRICS countries can exchange experiences and increase collaboration on NTDs. The BRICS countries can help apply best practices, innovative models, and lessons learned about NTD control and elimination to other NTD endemic countries.
And lastly, as powerful and emerging economies, the BRICS can use their collective voices to build political commitment, mobilize resources and implement policies that will help meet global NTD goals.
As the BRICS countries gear up to launch their own development bank this July, it’s important to keep in mind that addressing NTDs will also help the BRICS countries – and the rest of the world – develop economically. Global health challenges like NTDs perpetuate poverty and inequality, thus thwarting opportunities for social progress and economic growth. NTDs can result in long-term health problems such as blindness and other physical disabilities, delayed cognitive development and malnutrition, leaving people unable to go to work, learn and live productive lives.
Controlling and eliminating NTDs by 2020 will surely be a global effort – and one that will progress more quickly and sustainably with BRICS at the lead.
Brazil’s Bolsa Familia program contributed to a dramatic drop in poverty and inequality within the country, said Tereza Campello, Minister of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger at a January 29th event at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
The event, titled “A Conversation with Tereza Campello, Brazils Minister of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger,” was co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute and the World Bank’s Latin America and the Caribbean Region and shed light on some of the progress made in poverty alleviation in the first 10 years of the Bolsa Família program.
Minister Campello began her discussion by saying that poverty and inequality in Brazil has dropped dramatically thanks to three main public policies: a raise in the minimum wage, the expansion of the formal job sector, and the Bolsa Família program. The program was launched in 2003 during former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s term. It is the largest conditional cash transfer program in the world, and is responsible for lifting 22 million people out of poverty. The three main goals of the program are to alleviate poverty and hunger; increase education attendance and reduce school drop-out rates; and improve access to health services for children, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding.
Since the beginning of the program, Bolsa Família has assisted over 50 million people over a quarter of Brazil’s population. In return for direct cash transfers, beneficiaries must ensure their children attend school and receive their vaccinations, and pregnant women must receive prenatal and postpartum care.
Minister Campello highlighted the following achievements from the Bolsa Família program in the focus area of health:
- 19.4% reduction in infant mortality rate,
- 52% decrease of chronic infant malnutrition in children up to 6 years of age,
- 58% reduction in death due to malnutrition,
- Drop from 16.8% to 14.5% in the rate of stunting in children up to 5 years of age,
- 50% increase in prenatal care,
- 46% reduction in deaths from diarrhea, and
- 99.1% vaccination rate in children.
Its impact has been greatest in the northeast and Amazon regions of the country, where poverty is more prevalent. Additionally, out of the total current beneficiaries of the program, 73% of them are afro-Brazilian women.
The success of Bolsa Família
Although Bolsa Família has been widely successful, challenges do remain. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world with a population of more than 200 million people living in more than 5 thousand municipalities. To address this issue, the Brasil Sem Miséria plan (Brazil Without Poverty plan) was launched during President Dilma Rousseff’s term in 2011 in order to expand the reach of the Bolsa Família program. Through this complementary plan, the Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger is currently reaching out to an additional 9 million people who are not part of the Bolsa Família program but are in dire need of support.
Minister Campello closed the conversation by saying that the “end of poverty” is only the beginning. We join the Brazilian government in celebrating the first 10 years of Bolsa Família and we look forward to sharing many more success stories!
A majority of the NTD disease burden in Latin America and the Caribbean occurs in Brazil. This week, the Brazilian Ministry of Health is launching a public health campaign to diagnose and treat soil-transmitted helminths (or intestinal parasites) and leprosy in school-aged children. Over the next few days, we will be featuring stories related to the fight against NTDs in Brazil.
According to the World Health Organization (Brazil, with 37,610 new cases in 2009. In Latin America and the Caribbean, leprosy is no longer a public health problem, except for in Brazil. The Brazilian government is working tirelessly to combat leprosy and to empower those who are currently affected. Because of this, Brazil is close to eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, which is defined as less than 1 case per 10,000 people.
Also known as Hansens disease, leprosy is caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae
In March 2013, heads of state and senior ministerial officials from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will gather in Durban, South Africa for the fifth annual BRICS Summit. Later in the year, in September, G20 leaders will meet in St. Petersburg, Russia for the G20 Summit.
These upcoming meetings represent a huge opportunity for the NTD community. By pooling resources, expertise and influence, these influential international bodies have an opportunity to raise the profile of the NTD problem and galvanize concerted action at the global level on behalf of hundreds of millions of marginalized people who do not have a voice.
Efforts by the BRICS and G20 countries to improve food security, education and economic growth are all issues undermined by NTDs. Recognizing this, two new policy papers prepared by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases ahead of the BRICS and G20 summits, a BRICS call to action, highlight the need to include NTDs in broader development and economic policies.
As a group, the BRICS countries have unique, fresh perspectives to share with NTD endemic countries and other development partners, drawing on the valuable technical expertise they have acquired while addressing their own public health challenges, including efforts to combat NTDs.
Similarly, while world leaders will focus on economic growth and job creation at the upcoming G20 Summit, this group has an opportunity to elevate issues like NTDs and malnutrition, which hinder economic growth in countries around the world.
International political advocacy is one way we can help promote change needed to end inequality and suffering caused by NTDs. Interested in the subject? End the Neglect readers are encouraged to read through and share these call to action papers.
Here they are again:
To read more about the social and economic impact of NTDs, please click here: