Category Archives: Global Development

Political Action Needed to Eliminate Neglected Infectious Diseases in the Western Hemisphere


Photo by Olivier Asselin

Photo by Olivier Asselin

By Ambassador Donald J. Planty

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have made impressive economic, political and social strides since the “Lost Decade” of the 1980s.  Economies are more developed and diversified, education and health are improving, democratic systems are more prevalent and more people are moving into the middle class. Despite this economic and political progress, the region still faces enormous challenges.  Too many people are poor, income distribution is skewed and governments do not invest enough in education and health.  Without providing for more educated and healthier populations, countries are automatically putting the brakes on creating more equitable societies in the future.

This is particularly the case in health and manifests itself in the devastating consequences of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that are felt every day in the lives of more than 200 million people in LAC.

What Are NTDs and Why Are They Important?

NTDs are a group of parasitic and bacterial diseases that afflict 1.4 billion people around the world, the majority of whom live on less than US $1.25 per day.  NTDs are considered diseases of “neglected people” because they primarily affect the most marginalized communities, who often live in remote areas and have little voice in national affairs.  Control and elimination of these diseases are critical to a society’s well being.

NTDs disproportionately burden women and children and can cause blindness, disfigurement, disability, severe malnutrition and anemia.  If left untreated, NTDs can impair physical and cognitive development and can lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight.  These diseases also take a toll on mental health and diminish human and social capital since people suffering from NTDs are often stigmatized and isolated.

NTDs are an obstacle to economic development, resulting in billions of dollars in lost wages and decreased economic productivity. When parents or other family members are infected with or disabled by NTDs, children often have to take on chores, work outside the home and other responsibilities that keep them from going to school.

The burden of NTDs on social, economic, and human development in LAC is largely hidden from political leaders and policymakers.

What about Resources?

The good news is that controlling and eliminating NTDs in Latin America and the Caribbean is achievable. Cost effective, proven interventions are available.  The Pan American Health Organization has partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseasesto launch a major effort to fight NTDs in LAC.

For as little as 50 cents per person per year, we can prevent and treat the most common intestinal parasites in Central America.  The majority of the necessary treatments for NTDs are either donated or available at an extremely low-cost, making the prevention, treatment and elimination of NTDs a ‘best buy’ in global health.  Furthermore, by coupling deworming with access to clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene education currently ongoing in many countries, intestinal worm infections can be drastically reduced.

The Central America region is currently on track to controlling and eliminating neglected infectious diseases 2015; however, additional resources—both technical and financial—are necessary to scale up deworming to meet coverage levels recommended by the World Health Organization. A commitment of US$5 million over 5 years would ensure an integrated, comprehensive approach to soil transmitted helminthes (STH) control in Central America.

Building on the region’s strong history of implementing successful programs to defeat polio, measles and rubella, Central American countries are now well poised to address the treatment gap for children affected by intestinal parasites. Together, with heightened political will and deepened commitment by key partners and people affected, we can truly end the neglect of these diseases.

Donors from around the world have also increased their commitments in response to the renewed efforts of endemic countries.  The largest partnership to date, the London Declaration on NTDs, was announced in January 2012, by pharmaceutical companies, bilateral aid agencies, and other public and private sector partners.  These partners pledged to work together to control or eliminate 10 NTDs by 2020 by increasing drug donations, research and development, and bilateral support for NTD programs around the world. With the new and existing pledges totalled, companies committed an average of 1.4 billion treatments each year to those in need, but unfortunately, few South American countries have applied to request support.

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NTDS Take the Stage at the Social Good Summit


(from right to left) Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network; David Harris, executive creative director of Draftfcb in London; and Peter Koechley, co-founder of Upworthy, present at the Social Good Summit in New York City

(from right to left) Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network; David Harris, executive creative director of Draftfcb in London; and Peter Koechley, co-founder of Upworthy, present at the Social Good Summit in New York City.


“We have a wonderful public-private partnership with the pharmaceutical industry who are donating all the drugs, and we have great technical experts that actually help to ensure that these drugs get to the people that require them. So now we need to create the movement to ensure that it’s seeded in the public consciousness, and that enables us to influence policy and get more money for the cause for essentially a voiceless community.” – Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, at the Social Good Summit

Yesterday, at the Social Good Summit (SGS) in New York City, the Global Network had a phenomenal opportunity to join innovative and inspiring leaders in technology, media and policy from all over the world to discuss how we can accelerate progress on development issues such as poverty, education, equal rights, girls and women, and climate change by 2030.

We were honored to be part of that fascinating conversation hosted by the 92 Street Y, Mashable, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, by speaking on a panel, “Is shock value a way to spur social good?” Our presenters, Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network; David Harris, executive creative director of Draftfcb in London; and Peter Koechley, co-founder of Upworthy, shared how our END7 “Celebrity Shocker” video relied on raw emotion, celebrity engagement, social media – and of course shock value – to catapult awareness for NTDs and prompt thousands of people to take action.

Neeraj began by talking about the two ways in which people essentially react: emotionally and rationally. On the one hand, people react with their guts, knowing how they feel about something immediately. Conversely, sometimes people react slowly about something and are able to make calculated decisions in response. With this in mind, Neeraj explained, the Global Network “decided to fight the [NTD] cause on both fronts.”

Only minutes into the panel, we discovered very few people in the audience actually knew about NTDs and how they afflict over a billion people worldwide, most of whom live on less than $1.25 a day. In fact, just a few hands out of hundreds of people went up when Neeraj asked about their familiarity with them!

"How to Shock a Celebrity" plays in front of the audience

“How to Shock a Celebrity” plays in front of the audience

So, just as we introduced NTDs to hundreds of thousands of people earlier this year with our END7 “Celebrity Shocker” video, we grabbed people’s attention at SGS by playing the video for them. What we saw and heard was so moving – and quite telling: gasps, hands over people’s mouths, jaws dropping and sheer sadness on their faces.

David then provided insights about the creative process behind END7 and our PSA. He explained, “Our biggest challenge was that these aren’t very user friendly images to put in front of a public. And our challenge was really that no one knows what these diseases are.” The key for him, therefore, was to “create a little bit of suspense and engagement” that would build empathy and emotions “that connect us and drive us to do something.”

Though END7 has an ambitious goal – seeing the end of the seven most common NTDs in seven years (by 2020) – it’s actually possible. As David said, “the really shocking thing is that there’s a cure for such a small amount of money.” For just 50 cents, we can treat and protect one person per year with a packet of pills donated by the pharmaceutical industry. “The idea is that anyone, in their small way, can contribute to the campaign,” David noted, and that we can all help alleviate widespread suffering and poverty caused by these horrific diseases with just a simple, small donation.

As Peter described, a successful public awareness campaign for any organization isn’t just about the creative assets, it’s also very much about the strategy behind sharing them, building an audience and encouraging people to act on what they’ve seen.

“The type of emotion matters,” Peter said, noting that a goal of campaigns should be to spur emotions that “get people to sit forward in your chair to do something.” These include outrage, shock, happiness and inspiration. Peter and others at Upworthy felt compelled to share the video because it not only hit on these powerful points but also that “if [treatment is] just 50 cents…we can help a few hundred thousand more people see this and help make a difference.”

Wrapping up the discussion, Neeraj noted that tackling NTDs is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions out there today. And, because NTDs are linked to many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), if we address them, we can make improvements to many of the challenges other SGS presenters highlighted, such as water and sanitation, access to education, and maternal and child health.

“We see the END7 campaign as a vehicle to actually raise attention to these [neglected] communities, and once we mainstream that in our collective consciousness, like every movement, we’ll be able to tackle this issue.”

Thank you again to the Social Good Summit for inviting us to be part of this innovative and thought-provoking global discussion! We were inspired by so many presenters, including Malala, Magatte Wade, Barbara Bush, and so many others, and we look forward to seeing the resulting impact in the coming years!

Join us by learning more at and watching the panel below. Together, we can see the end.

Global Network Special Envoys Generate Global Momentum for NTD Treatment


NTD special envoy President Alvaro Arzú speaks at an event on NTDs

NTD special envoy President Alvaro Arzú speaks at an event on NTDs

The Global Network’s special envoys for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are using their political voice and technical expertise to get NTDs on the United Nation’s global development agenda to end poverty.

Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen, former president of Guatemala; John A. Kufuor, former president of Ghana; Ricardo Lagos Escobar, former president of Chile; and Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, director of the Pan American Health Association, emphasized the need to include NTDs in the United Nations post-2015 development framework in a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Together they write:

“The plain fact is that the control and elimination of NTDs is crucial to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and deserves explicit mention in the final framework of the post-2015 development agenda.”

The envoys also emphasize the severe and negative impacts NTDs have on some of the most marginalized communities worldwide.

“As you may know, poverty reduction and the elimination of NTDs go hand-in-hand. NTDs afflict 1.4 billion people worldwide, including more than 500 million children. They cause blindness, massive swelling in appendages and limbs, severe malnutrition, and anemia. They are a leading cause of pregnancy complications among women and are a key source of poverty, reducing school attendance and learning capabilities among children and worker productivity for adults. “

The special envoys also recognize NTD treatment as one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce poverty.

“For a cost of approximately USD 50 cents per person per year, effective treatment for the seven most common NTDs can be administered, making NTD control programs one of the most cost-effective interventions available in global health today.”

This important letter adds to the momentum generated by the London Declaration, where leaders from pharmaceutical companies, the U.S, UK and United Arab Emirates, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, and other global health organizations announced their support for eliminating 10 NTDs by 2020. Since the declaration, governments and international institutions have been recognizing the need for increased NTD funding, awareness and political will.

To read the full letter, click here.

To send your own message to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, click here.

We Need Your Voice: Now’s the Time to Tell World Leaders to End NTDs


700x700UN_Secretary-General_END7As September quickly approaches, world leaders are gearing up for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where they’ll discuss how to improve the lives of the billion people on the planet living in extreme poverty. These poor and neglected populations represent those suffering from devastating and disfiguring neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

We know that treating NTDs is a catalyst for achieving broader development goals, especially those outlined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is why I’ve written a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to prioritize NTDs as part of his strategy to reduce poverty and inequality worldwide.

This is where you come in: By adding your name to my letter, our message will be amplified. Will you send a message to Ban Ki-moon now on behalf of the billion people suffering from NTDs? 

NTDs perpetuate a cycle of poverty that continues from generation to generation. These diseases directly affect nutrition, school attendance and the development of children. Even more, they undercut economic growth and increase the likelihood of contracting other harmful diseases like HIV.

But if we act now, we can persuade the world’s governments to help the world’s most neglected people by resolving to eliminate NTDs once and for all.

Ban Ki-moon has said “eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main challenges of our time.” However, we know that poverty cannot be solved as long as one in six people are living with NTDs.

But there is good news: The medicine to treat NTDs is cheap, safe, available and life-changing. Even more, global momentum is growing to treat and prevent NTDs. The recent report issues by the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda placed NTDs alongside the most pressing global health issues, such as preventing maternal and child deaths; HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis.

Together we can elevate funding, research and political will for NTD treatment. Will you be a part of this success story?

Add your name here and pass it on. Together we can see the end of 7 NTDs.