More than 100 million people are affected by one or more neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. As a former Director of the Pan American Health Organization, I’ve seen the suffering caused by these diseases first-hand. At the same time, I have also learnt what can be achieved when endemic countries and international partners put NTDs – and the people affected by them – front and center in their policies.
The World Health Organization’s Third Report on NTDs, released last month, rightly puts a strong emphasis on equity and shared prosperity – themes that are at the very core of tackling NTDs.
The report, “Investing to Overcome the Global Impact of Neglected Tropical Diseases,” charts a new course by outlining the investments needed to reach the WHO Roadmap goals– a critical guide for the global effort to control and eliminate NTDs by 2020. Importantly, it also examines what needs to be done to achieve universal coverage of all people in need by 2030.
The new WHO report calls attention to progress made, including in the LAC region, which is a source of pride and hope for all involved. The region’s milestones can serve as a model for other endemic countries and show the world what’s truly achievable:
- In 2013, Colombia became the first country in the world to reach WHO-verified elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness), followed by Ecuador in 2014.
- Guatemala and Mexico are on track to eliminate transmission of onchocerciasis, leaving just one border area between Brazil and Venezuela with ongoing transmission of the disease.
- More than half of the region’s countries with endemic Chagas disease have eliminated transmission by the disease’s principal domestic insect vector, and 20 of 21 endemic countries have implemented universal blood screening for Chagas.
- Costa Rica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago are no longer endemic for lymphatic filariasis as of 2011. More than 7 million people were treated for this disease in 2013, most of them in Haiti.
Landmark commitments like the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs and the 2013 World Health Assembly NTD resolution have helped sustain political will towards this effort. These commitments have influenced further action in the Americas, where commitments from the Organization of American States and the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic accelerated the fight against NTDs.
Globally, over 800 million NTD treatments were delivered in 2012 alone– an outstanding result achieved through strong partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, endemic countries, affected communities, bilateral and multilateral organizations and implementing partners.
But, we still must finish what we’ve started and accelerate progress towards the 2020 goals. This will help set the stage for success as we look ahead to achieve universal coverage of everyone in need by 2030.
Many of the people affected by NTDs live in middle income countries, and the report calls for more domestic resources to be mobilized and more equitably distributed, including among the poorest and most marginalized people. Similarly, there is significant scope for development banks and donors, as well as emerging players like the BRICS, to finance NTD efforts by employing innovative models and leveraging public-private partnerships. Cross-sectoral collaboration with the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene); nutrition; maternal and child health; and education communities is increasing access to NTD interventions, while also enhancing impact and ensuring sustainability.
The WHO report endorses the fact that controlling and eliminating NTDs paves the way for poverty alleviation and shared prosperity for all. As I’ve said before, targets to control and eliminate NTDs must be included in global efforts to address poverty and inequality, including the post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding Sustainable Development Goals.
I encourage you to read the full WHO report here.