President Yoweri Museveni Launches Health Program to Eliminate River Blindness in Uganda

June 1st, 2012 by Heena Patel No comments »

The Government of Uganda has recently launched a health program to eliminate river blindness in the country. The implementation of a mass-drug administration initiative to combat this neglected tropical disease (NTD) is currently the work of President Yoweri Museveni.

Onchocerciasis, or river blindness is the world’s fourth leading cause of preventable blindness, infecting at least 37 million people living near the rivers and fast-moving streams of sub-Saharan Africa. It is spread through the bites of a small black fly that breeds in rapidly flowing waters along fertile riverbanks. This disease leads to visual impairment or blindness, skin disease, and debilitating itching. River blindness has devastating socioeconomic consequences, because it debilitates its victim and stunts economic capacity and development.

The health program to eliminate river blindness is being undertaken by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. It targets river blindness amongst children over five years of age in of Acholi, a region that for decades has been burdened by the disease. With this initiative there is a wave of new hope as the introduction of the new drug, Ivermectin has already begun to re-energize the government’s commitment to eliminate this deadly disease. President Museveni has also urged Acholi residents to “mercilessly” take the drugs, saying Uganda can, “wipe out this river blindness disease because it is not like HIV/Aids.” The river blindness initiative is tied to other health projects in the country, such as nodding disease, mass measles, and immunization programs.

Click here to learn more about river blindness.

Click here to learn how you can help fight NTDs

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Congressional Committees Deliver Some Good News on NTDs

June 1st, 2012 by Caitlin Garlow No comments »

In May there were two important developments for NTDs in the ongoing work of the U.S. Congress to allocate spending for the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY2013 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill, a new bill that supported $125 million funding for NTDs, a tremendous improvement over the President’s budgetary request of only $67 million.  The Senate initially allocated $110 million for NTDs, but Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) supported an amendment that redistributed funding for UNESCO to support other global health accounts at USAID, including the NTD Program.

The House Appropriations Committee also approved their FY13 State and Foreign Operations bill in May.  While the committee did not specify an exact amount for the NTD Program, they did include report language praising the NTD Program and affirming their support.

“Neglected Tropical Diseases. – The Committee notes the success by USAID in combating neglected tropical diseases and supports the continuation of these successful life-saving programs.”

Congressional support for and confidence in the NTD Program thus far is a great sign, and we’re hopeful that they will be able to continue to fund the program at or above its current level so that we will not lose any momentum in the progress to control and eliminate NTDs worldwide.

As they move to combine these two bills and look at larger budgetary questions – such as automatic budget cuts which go into effect in FY 2013 – we will continue to share outcomes that will impact the future work of the USAID NTD Program.

For more information on this year’s global health budget, please visit the Kaiser Family Foundation Policy Tracker.

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Lymphatic filariasis,on the spotlight in Brazil

May 30th, 2012 by admin No comments »

By: Agustin Caceres

In Recife, Brasil, the government is using the school system to screen and treat children for lymphatic filariasis

Brasilia, May 29th 2012 - The 11th Regional Meeting, organized by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), is taking place this week in Brasilia (Brazil). In this event, more than 30 representatives of governments, academia, and donor organizations in the fight against neglected infectious disease have gathered to discuss the situation of this NID in the Americas including the success stories, and also the remaining challenges.

In the opening session, hosted by Dr. Joaquin Molina, Representative of PAHO in Brazil, and Dr. Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr, Secretary of Health Surveillance of the Health Ministry of Brazil, highlighted that the disease continues to represent an important challenge for the health authorities of Latin America and the Caribbean. In the region, more than 12 million people are at risk of contracting this disease including Haiti, one of the countries most at risk.

“These meetings demonstrate Brazil’s support for the elimination of this disease in the country”, said Dr. Barbosa da Silva. “We are close to the elimination of LF, and that is why this is such an important step. This disease has to remain a top priority and this is why it is key that it is addressed with an integrated approach in collaboration with primary health care services. It is not just about eradication, but also about sustained surveillance.”

Lymphatic filariasis, which is included in the group of the Neglected Infectious Diseases, affects mainly indigenous populations, as well as rural and urban populations that live in pockets of extreme deprivation in several countries in LAC. This is the case of the metropolitan area of Recife, in northeastern Brazil, where the Inter-American Development Bank is supporting a project for the control and elimination of this disease as well as others like leprosy, still present in several areas in Brazil, and geohelminthiasis (intestinal parasites), which has a strong prevalence among children in school age in many municipalities throughout the country.

More than 30 representatives of several countries in the Region are attending this event, such as Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname –countries that have certified the eradication of this disease and therefore are no longer considered endemic- together with other countries that are still fighting this disease, including Haiti, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

The meetings have covered a wide range of topics related to the fight against this disease: from Suriname’s National Plan of Action for the control of NIDs to the experience in Integrated Vector Management in Trinidad and Tobago and the metropolitan area of Recife in Brazil, where activities to monitor and eliminate breeding sites of the culex mosquito –vector for the transmission of LF- are a key component in the strategy to eradicate this disease.

The fight against LF is part of the joint efforts of the IDB, PAHO, and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Sabin Vaccine Institute as part of the Neglected Infectious Diseases Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean, an initiative that is supporting innovative projects based with an integrated approach in both the fight against multiple diseases as well as the integration with other sectors like water, sanitation, and housing.

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Agustin Caceres is a consultant in Communications and Outreach at the Social Protection and Health Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Washington DC.

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Sixty-Fifth Session of the WHA Highlights Progress in NTD Control, Adopts New Resolution on Schistosomiasis Elimination

May 25th, 2012 by Heena Patel No comments »

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) were on the agenda this week at the Sixty-fifth session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland.

A major milestone was reached when the WHA today approved a new resolution on elimination of schistosomiasis.

Schistosomiasis, also known as “snail fever”, is a disease caused by parasitic worms carried by fresh water snails. It is found predominantly in tropical and sub-tropical climates, and infects 207 million people in 74 countries worldwide. Schistosomiasis ranks second only to malaria as the most common parasitic disease.

This new resolution urges Member States to: ensure access to essential drugs against schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminth infection, mobilize resources in order to sustain activities for control of schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis, promote access to safe water, sanitation and health education, mobilize resources in order to sustain activities for control of schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis, and include schistosomiasis control measures into other disease control programs and health systems.

While reinforcing past resolutions, this resolution also marks a new development in efforts to combat schistosomiasis because it sets the stage for changing the goal from control to elimination.  The resolution calls for the Director-General and the WHO to prepare guidance for reaching elimination and to develop processes to ascertain and certify when transmission has been interrupted and the diseases has been eliminated.

Programs against schistosomiasis have been very successful and many countries are ready to make the request for certifying elimination.  In passing this resolution, the WHA is ensuring that support is available for other countries to do the same.  Iran, Japan, Jordan, Mauritius, Morocco, Tunisia, parts of China and some Caribbean countries and territories are all ready to certify for elimination.   While much of the world is still working towards controlling schistosomiasis, these places are demonstrating that, ultimately, elimination of this debilitating disease is possible!

At the assembly, NTDs were also brought to the spotlight by Secretary of Health Surveillance, Jarbas Barbosa and Professor Therese N’Dri-Yoman, President of the Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly.

Barbosa spoke at the conference about the efforts that the Brazilian government has adopted for the elimination of NTDs and their view of NTD control as a key part of poverty alleviation.   He talked about Brazil Without Poverty, an initiative of the Brazilian Federal Government to eliminate extreme poverty in the country, which also incorporates a plan for NTDs. “We believe this integration promotes a synergistic opportunity to reach the poorest groups in our country,” Barbosa said.  He also mentioned that Brazil is close to achieving the elimination of two neglected diseases: lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis.

In addition, at a lunch-time technical briefing on May 21, delegates discussed the relationship between NTDs and poverty.  Professor N’Dri-Yoman described the movement to control and eliminate NTDs as an “unprecedented force” that now exists among the global health community. A number of other speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration as vital to ensuring continued progress.

Click here to learn more about NTDs.

Click here to learn about all previous WHA Resolutions on Neglected Tropical Diseases.

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