In an important new paper, “Neglected tropical diseases: now more than just ‘other disease’ — the post-2015 agenda,” published in International Health, David Molyneux, professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, captures why defeating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is so critical. He writes, “The overall context of NTD control is the contribution it makes to the alleviation of poverty and improved social and economic prospects of individuals and communities.”
Given NTDs’ profound impact on poverty — and the potential for their control and elimination to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and targets set in the post-2015 development agenda — NTD partners must do everything possible to ensure World Health Organization (WHO) targets are met by 2020.
Before outlining the key challenges and actions needed to overcome them, Professor Molyneux recognizes advancements made in the global NTD fight.
For instance, in 2006, the U.S. committed resources to implement integrated NTD control programs through USAID, while in 2008, the UK pledged financial support through DFID, marking the beginning of their longstanding commitments to NTDs. In 2012, following the creation of the WHO Roadmap for NTDs and the formation of the London Declaration, the World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a historic resolution on all 17 NTDs in May 2013.
2013 was also a milestone year because the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel report included NTDs alongside other pressing global health issues. Following this momentum, in spring 2014, a Lancet editorial reiterated the importance of addressing NTDs in the Sustainable Development Goals, and in summer 2014, the draft SDGs featured NTDs under proposed goal 3, “Attain healthy lives for all.”
Efforts in endemic countries have also led to successes. For instance, innovations in mapping disease burdens and diagnostics prove that “defining the areas of intervention can be undertaken rapidly and without the need for invasive or intrusive procedures [which have] been a contributing factor in the successful scale up of mass drug administration.” Community Directed Treatment (CDTI) and the reliance on existing infrastructure have helped “ensure that drugs are collected and distributed in ways that are best decided by the communities themselves.”
Yet remaining challenges could threaten the tremendous momentum attained to-date. The challenges — and their solutions— according to Professor Molyneux include:
Funding. “The funding provided is a fraction of that available for other diseases and a reflection of the gross inequity to implement programs that address the diseases of the poor.” Even with generous support from the U.S. and UK, funding from endemic countries and new commitments — such as resources pledged through the London Declaration to address soil-transmitted helminths — resource mobilization among diverse development partners is needed to ensure donated medicines reach the most vulnerable communities.
Implementation. Even though “over the past 3 years, in excess of 700 million treatments have been given annually” for the seven most common NTDs, efforts must be scaled up to reach all at-risk people, especially in conflict areas.
Human resources. Mass drug administrations all around the world are carried out through the work of thousands of health workers and volunteers — such as in Myanmar. But health systems must continue to be strengthened to adequately handle competing health priorities and deliver NTD and other treatments.
Application of research. While the NTD community has produced a rich body of research, “moving policy into practice needs to be accelerated.”
With the progress made thus far, there is clearly no choice but to continue the good work being carried out and expand efforts where current challenges lie.
To read the paper, click here.