Back in Berlin: NTD Discussions Advance

 

Last week, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Sabin Vaccine Institute hosted a well-attended parliamentary workshop in Germany to raise awareness and deepen support for the cause of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

The event was organized in conjunction with the Global Network’s on-the-ground partners and included presentations from Dr. Lorenzo Savioli, professor with Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Dr. Matthias Vennemann, a global health consultant and member of the new German NTD Network and our own managing director, Dr. Neeraj Mistry.  Also, participating in the workshop were representatives from civil society and German-based pharmaceutical companies. The event allowed for thoughtful discussion and questions about NTDs, their impact on marginalized populations, and how elimination can be achieved.  It also gave participants an opportunity to identify which countries they thought carried the largest NTD burden—many were surprised by the answers.

Hosting a meeting in Berlin was significant because of the history of German engagement in the field of NTDs dating back to the mid-1800s with the discovery of “bilharzia” or schistosomiasis in Egypt in 1851 by German parasitologist, Dr. Theodor Maximilian Bilharz. In addition, the German government under GTZ (now GIZ) played an important role in the NTD movement co-sponsoring with the World Health Organization two key meetings of leading NTD stakeholders in 2004 and 2005.  The outcome of these meetings achieved two important results—it unified support for an integrated approach in addressing NTD control and elimination efforts, especially for the most common NTDs, and, the term “neglected tropical diseases” became a regular part of the global health vernacular.

Since then, the German government has supported research and development for NTDs. The Parliament conducted a hearing on research for neglected and poverty-caused diseases in 2011, and, some aspects of NTD control have been included in German development policy, such as school-based deworming— on a limited scale.

“However, opportunities truly exist now to scale up global engagement on neglected tropical diseases,” says Dr. Mistry.  “With the inclusion of neglected and poverty-related diseases as a focus area on the G7 Summit agenda, and as part of the post-2015 Open Working Group’s outcome document, we’re expecting great things for NTDs in 2015—and, we believe Germany could have a major role to play.”

The Global Network plans to return to Germany a few more times this year to continue our engagement working closely with our in-country partners.  The German Parliament is already set to another conduct a hearing on NTDs in early February.

Every Sample is Someone’s Life: My Experience with NTD Field Research

 

By David Obadina

Northeastern University, where I am a junior majoring in International Affairs with a minor in global health, has an amazing co-op program through which students can go on six month internships anywhere in the world and work in an area of their interest. Having learned so much about neglected tropical diseases from classes and from serving on the END7 Student Advisory Board last spring, I was excited to be able to apply what I have learned and make a difference in this field during my co-op in the summer and fall of 2014 in Kumasi, Ghana.

For my co-op, I worked at the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) in their parasitology section. I had the opportunity to work in the lab and in the field to see and experience firsthand how NTDs like lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, hookworm and roundworm are treated.

The field experience was one of a kind. The staff here at KCCR were all very friendly and dedicated to their jobs. When we would go out into the field, we would travel a few hours to remote villages where people do not have easy access to healthcare and set up our equipment in a nearby school. Then, the project leader would speak to the people in charge of the village and would explain everything they intended to do. People were eager to be tested and receive treatment for NTDs.

I worked on the field microscope that was testing people on site. Probably the most interesting and meaningful experience of the field work was when I would diagnose on site looking at blood under the microscope. When I found a worm in someone’s blood I would alert them and show them the worm under the microscope to explain to them the nature of the disease afflicting them. This fieldwork raised awareness of filarial disease among these communities and actively sought to educate the community members. I was honored to be a part of this work and have gained a whole new real world perspective when it comes to the reality of NTDs and those affected by them.

Working in the laboratory, while it may not sound as exciting as the field, has been just as intriguing and is extremely essential to understanding these diseases. Something that was stressed every day in the lab is that every sample is someone’s life. Every single sample of blood that we diagnose and analyze holds meaning and is of high importance. Every diagnosis we make, whether negative or positive, has an immense effect on the lives of everyone involved, and that cannot be taken lightly.

I first became involved in the END7 campaign after being introduced to it by my epidemiology professor, Dr. Richard Wamai, in the fall of 2013, and joined the team that formed the END7 club at Northeastern. We planned many educational events and raised funds for END7, but last semester, I had the eye-opening opportunity to be on the other side of the fight against NTDs during my co-op. Now, I believe I’m better prepared to advocate for global equality and the rapid treatment of neglected diseases. At END7 events hosted at Northeastern, people would sometimes ask what it’s like for people with these diseases or how someone with an NTD looks. I could give an educated answer from what I had studied about the disease or things I had heard at global health conferences, but I couldn’t really give an accurate first hand account. After my co-op experience, I know I’ll be much more confident in giving an accurate depiction of the wide-ranging effects of NTDs on human life.

My co-op experience helped me grow in many ways. I learned a great deal about parasitology, global health networks, and what it really means to work in this field and make a difference in the lives of others. Now that I’m back in Boston, I am excited to begin another semester of education, advocacy, and fundraising with END7 at Northeastern this spring.

Bill and Melinda Gates Bet on the Elimination of Guinea Worm, Elephantiasis, Trachoma and Onchocerciasis

 

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In their Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates have one big bet: The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.

Considering the tremendous progress made in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), we couldn’t agree more. By advocating for the control and elimination of NTDs, the international community is making big strides to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Just last year, 800 million people were treated for NTDs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s NTD Program successfully delivered its one billionth NTD treatment. Echoing this momentum, NTD treatment continues to be recognized as a key tool for cutting extreme poverty. For example, the G7 and BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) recently made commitments to accelerate progress toward the global fight against NTDs.

NTDs are the most common affliction of the world’s poorest people, contributing to debilitating blindness, disfiguration and a number of harmful outcomes including school absenteeism, malnutrition and poor maternal and child health. This group of parasitic and bacterial infections is notorious for perpetuating poverty and undermining broader global development efforts. In order to end poverty and improve the lives of the poor, we must prioritize the control and elimination of NTDs.

In their annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates specifically call for the end of four NTDs: Guinea worm, elephantiasis, trachoma and onchocerciasis. They write:

“Destroying a disease utterly is a very difficult thing to do—so difficult, in fact, that it’s only happened once in history, when smallpox was eradicated in 1980. But if we keep working hard, we can eradicate four diseases by 2030. We can get polio out of Africa this year and out of every country in the world in the next several years. Guinea Worm, an incredibly painful disease whose sufferers spend months incapacitated while worms that can be several feet long burst out of their legs, will also be gone soon, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Carter and the Carter Center. We’ll also see the last of diseases like Elephantiasis, River Blindness, and Blinding Trachoma, which disable tens of millions of people in poor countries. The drugs that can stop these scourges are now being donated in huge numbers by pharmaceutical companies, and they’re being used more strategically thanks to advances in digital maps that show where diseases are most prevalent. Last year these free medicines were distributed to 800 million people.”

Bill and Melinda Gates’ important message injects new energy into the fight against NTDs. Their message is timely, following the recent appropriation by Congress of $100 million toward USAID’s NTD Program for FY 2015 and the launch of India’s ambitious campaign to treat more than 400 million people for elephantiasis, which if successful, could help India eliminate elephantiasis within the next few years and set a bold example for the world.

To read the full letter, click here. To read a statement from Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, click here.

Special Envoys Urge the Inclusion of NTDs within the Sustainable Development Goals

 

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In an effort to give greater visibility to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and the one billion people affected by them, three of the Global Network Special Envoys, H.E. Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen, H.E. John A Kufuour and Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in response to his recently released Synthesis Report on the post-2015 development agenda The report, entitled “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet,” provides a summary of the post-2015 process to date and is meant to serve as a guiding tool during upcoming intergovernmental negotiations.

The Global Network is very grateful to have such prestigious global health champions advocating on behalf of the 1.4 billion people who suffer from NTDs. In their letter, the Envoys encourage the Secretary General to recognize the importance of clearly identifying NTDs as a public health priority in order to unlock the economic and social potential of more than one billion people living in marginalized communities around the world.

NTDs are parasitic and bacterial infections that can cause impaired childhood growth and development, poor pregnancy outcomes, blindness and crippling physical disfigurements, as well as an increased likelihood of contracting HIV, thwarting opportunities for social progress and economic growth.

Even though NTDs were included in the Outcome Document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) in 2014, they are not specifically mentioned in the Synthesis Report. The Special Envoys urge the inclusion of NTDs in the final post-2015 development agenda and the corresponding sustainable development goals and indicators in order to give increased visibility to the people affected by these diseases. We have achieved impressive results in our efforts to control and eliminate NTDs over the past decade, however, both donor and endemic country governments must commit additional resources if NTDs are to be eliminated.

As the window to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) closes this year and we grow closer to finalizing the development goals that will shape the next 15 years, world leaders have an excellent opportunity to ensure that people suffering from preventable diseases have access to free and lifesaving medicines and are able to productively contribute to their communities.