In September, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network) and the Sabin Vaccine Institute traveled to Berlin to meet with Members of Parliament, German NGO partners and the media to inspire action on the promises to combat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), made during the G7 Summit held in Germany this summer.
The Global Network, which is committed to seeing the end of NTDs — a group of 17 diverse diseases with distinct characteristics that thrive mainly among the poorest and most marginalized populations — works with partners around the world toward achieving this mission. The momentum to combat these debilitating and disfiguring diseases continues to grow and, during the G7 Summit at Schloss Elmau in June, Germany elevated the profile of NTDs by making “neglected and poverty-related diseases” a key topic for discussion.
The city of Berlin has a unique historical connection to NTDs; it was in Berlin 10 years ago that scientists, the German government and implementing partners first came together and coined the term “NTDs,” an important milestone in defining a collective response against these diseases. Germany is also home to the Institute for Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen where two 19th century German scientists who were instrumental in discovering the causes of schistosomiasis and elephantiasis, Theodor Bilharz and Otto Henry Wucherer, often lectured. Representatives from the university are also members of the newly formed German Network against NTDs.
During this most recent visit to Berlin, the Global Network’s Dr. Neeraj Mistry and Ms. Michelle Brooks, accompanied by Sabin’s President, Dr. Peter Hotez, as well as Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, participated in one-on-one meetings with Members of the German Bundestag, discussing short- and long-term goals surrounding disease elimination. Globally, nearly 1.4 billion people, including more than 500 million children, are at risk from NTDs and require treatment. Medicines are generously donated by pharmaceutical industry partners, however, the value of the donated drugs is not enough to combat NTDs if the funding falls short to ensure their delivery to communities who need them most.
It is fitting that a decade after pivotal meetings in Berlin created the term “NTDs,” the focus is once again on Germany. The G7 Leaders’ Declaration, published at the culmination of the summit, offers hopeful news for communities across Africa, Southeast Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, most marginalized by NTDs by promising to “invest in the prevention and control of NTDs in order to achieve 2020 elimination goals.”
An immediate increase in financing for NTD treatment and prevention programs is essential to build on the progress achieved so far. Opportunities to eliminate elephantiasis, river blindness and trachoma are nearly within our grasp. Countries worldwide, including the G7 nations, can play an important leadership role by helping to close this annual funding gap of US $220 million. If we fail to act now, not only will we reverse many milestones achieved, but one in six people across the world will continue to suffer unnecessarily from NTDs, held hostage in a cycle of perpetual poverty and inequality. Moreover, failure to act now will undermine the efforts of the G7 to demonstrate their accountability and effectiveness as a group.
We certainly applaud the German government for her bold steps taken on behalf of NTDs this year, and we will be watching this week on October 8th and 9th as the G7 ministers for health and research meet once again in Berlin to discuss next steps.