National Science Academies Urge G7 Leaders to Address NTDs

 

 

In advance of every G7 summit, the national science academies of the G7 countries prepare policy statements on the priority issues identified by the G7 host country. This year, the national science academies delivered statements on neglected tropical diseases, antibiotic resistance, and the future of the ocean.

In the statement on NTDs, they note that progress on NTDs “would be a major step towards alleviating poverty.”

NTDs affect the world’s poorest people and place an economic burden on low and middle-income countries. The academies called on G7 leaders to support efforts to reach WHO control and elimination targets by 2020:

“In principle, NTDs are preventable, treatable, controllable and some even eradicable. Moreover, most interventions against NTDs are highly cost-effective. To make progress toward preventing, controlling and eliminating NTDs, the G7 Academies of Sciences call for: (1) increasing efforts to empower and build capacity in affected countries to deal with these diseases, (2) intensifying research on NTDs, (3) developing and delivering affordable and accessible treatments, and (4) NTDs to be fully accounted for in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Much more needs to be done with a much greater urgency to reach the 2020 targets for all major NTDs. The specificity of diseases as well as the likely adverse impacts of severe climate events, risks of conflicts, increasing mobility/migration, and political instability need to be taken into account when developing strategies for tackling the NTD challenges. NTDs should be fully accounted for in the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who carries the G7 Presidency this year, invited representatives of the national science academies to a G7 dialogue forum to share their scientific expertise in advance of the 2015 G7 Summit, to be held in June in Schloss Elmau, Bavaria. The event was hosted by Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Science.

In his keynote speech at the G7 Dialogue Forum Science Conference on April 30th, Professor David Molyneux addressed NTDs and the work still needed to achieve the control and elimination goals outlined at the London Declaration in 2012.  Professor Molyneux is a Sabin partner and professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where NTDs are a major focus of research. In his speech, he highlighted the need for increased aid to combat NTDs — only 0.6% of overseas development assistance is allocated to NTDs.

Professor Molyneux said that policy makers must be convinced that NTDs are the markers of poverty, that control of these diseases reflect the capacity of health systems to ensure healthier communities and by default reduce the burden of poverty. He argued that addressing the “chronic pandemic of NTDs” requires capacity at all levels across the broad spectrum of health sciences.

After receiving the statement from the academies, Chancellor Merkel responded with a call to strengthen the WHO’s ability to combat disease. “I will attend the World Health Assembly in May, and neglected tropical diseases are on the agenda this year. This will hopefully help to encourage Member States to persevere in the fight against these terrible diseases, especially since simple treatments and measures are often enough to prevent them.”

As the G7 Summit approaches, we hope world leaders heed the national science academies’ call to develop and deliver affordable and accessible treatments for NTDs, and support multilateral efforts to address NTDs as part of the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.

Eliminating Diseases by Investing in WASH

 

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This blog was originally posted in Huffington Post as part of the “WASH and the MDGs: The Ripple Effect” blog series, in partnership with WASH Advocates.

At the turn of the century, world leaders came together at the United Nations in New York to develop the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight ambitious goals and targets meant to significantly reduce poverty by the year 2015. As the window to achieve these goals closes this year, we reflect on progresses made and look ahead to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that will shape the development agenda for the next 15 years.

A number of MDG targets have already been met, including efforts to reduce cases of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (MDG 6) and improving access to safe drinking water (MDG 7). Moving forward, addressing neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) will be a critical component when working toward meeting both of these goals. NTDs are bacterial, parasitic and viral infections that affect the most marginalized communities across the world and are often the result of inadequate water supply, limited access to sanitation facilities and poor hygiene. Areas with stagnant water are breeding grounds for insects that carry NTDs, notably mosquitoes which transmit malaria, but also dengue fever, lymphatic filariasis and chikungunya. By promoting integrated vector management and improved water control measures in endemic countries, we can simultaneously work to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria, while also working to control and eliminate NTDs.

Since 2000, there has been significant advancement in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly by increasing access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) for people living with HIV. The United Nations estimates that ART has saved 6.6 million lives since 1995. As with malaria, there are additional opportunities for integration that not only have the potential to reduce rates of HIV infection but also significantly improve water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) conditions. For example, in many developing countries, women remain disproportionately vulnerable to HIV infection due to greater social safety issues, such as lacking access to safe and accessible latrines. By not having access to a safe lavatory, women are forced to use public spaces to openly defecate and manage their menstrual needs, making them increasingly susceptible to infections as well as sexual violence. Globally, more than two billion people lack access to a proper toilet. Many common, poor hygiene practices, such as open defecation and failure to wash one’s hands, promote the spread of disease. These factors combined perpetuate the cycle of NTD infections and other serious infections.

The proposed SDGs currently consist of 17 goals with 169 targets that aim to end poverty and hunger, improve health and education, make cities more sustainable, combat climate change, and protect oceans and forests. Goal 3 encompasses a number of health-related objectives and targets, including ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, NTDs and water-borne diseases by 2030. Meeting these targets will go hand-in-hand with Goal 6 — achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, ending open defecation, and paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.

There are many ways that enhancing WASH conditions unswervingly leads to NTD control and elimination. For example, by improving access and quality of water, sanitation and hygiene, we can significantly reduce the number of people suffering from trachoma, an infectious eye disease and leading cause of preventable blindness, which results from limited access to clean water and proper sanitation. By simply providing access to clean water, we can reduce the number of trachoma cases by 27 percent. Similarly, having better sanitation in place can decrease cases of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease carried by fresh water snails infected with parasites. Women are especially vulnerable, given that cases of female genital schistosomiasis (FGS) result in three times greater chances of contracting HIV. It is estimated that at least 16 million women may be infected with FGS in Africa.

It is evident that WASH interventions have a multiplier effect and positively impact other health issues and development goals. As the window to achieve the MDGs comes to a close this year and we grow closer to confirming the goals and targets that will shape the next 15 years, we must emphasize the important synergies between WASH and the control and elimination of NTDs.

This blog post is part of the “WASH and the MDGs: The Ripple Effect” blog series, in partnership with WASH Advocates, addressing the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to global development. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. To learn more about WASH, visit the WASH Advocates website, and for more information about the Millennium Development Goals, click here.

An Interview with Francis Ohanyido, Global Network’s New NTD Advisor in Nigeria

 

339b5751. How did you first become interested in health issues? What makes you passionate?

My interest in health issues naturally started very early in life when I had made up my mind that I was going to study medicine. The story has it that I took an uncle’s stethoscope from his clinic when I was 7 or 8 years old and refused to return it, while insisting that I was going to be a doctor. I don’t quite recall that incident, but I do know that the central focus of my life has been to manage the sick. I co-founded the first on-campus HIV/AIDS outreach programme at a Nigerian university as a medical student in Jos, and my encounter later with public health issues among internally displaced persons camps in Liberia finally swayed me towards population medicine.

2. What is your role as Global Network’s National Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Advisor in Nigeria?

As the Global Network’s NTD advisor in Nigeria, I advocate for increased government commitments to the fight against NTDs. I work closely with NTD partners to support the government through evidence-based advocacy to sustain and incrementally grow federal and other tiers of governments’ political and funding commitments in order to expand NTD treatment access and coverage. I do this by demonstrating that NTDs should be a priority for the federal and select state governments in Nigeria. My role as Global Network’s National NTD Advisor is to also foster the establishment of policies and/or mechanisms towards sustainable NTD programing in all of Nigeria. I will also work with partners to provide technical support to the National NTD Steering Committee in order to enhance its capability for advocacy.

3. In your view, what are the biggest challenges standing in the way of Nigeria’s efforts to control and eliminate NTDs?

The major challenges in Nigeria’s efforts to control NTDs has largely been around funding; over dependency on donor interventions and inconsistent funding by government counterparts. As much as we situate the critical funding gap for NTDs with state governments, an often overlooked significant funding gap also exists within the local governments, which ordinarily should be major implementers of primary health care and third tier government partner for the NTD programmes in Nigeria. The second issue is the lack of community –based manpower to implement the NTD programme.

4. Does Media (social media, print and others) play a role in the fight against NTDs? How can we leverage this tool to effect change?

Media does play a major role in the fight against NTDs. Because NTDs remain ‘neglected’ in policy, programme, and perception, the power of media to effectively communicate and give the NTD programme a voice is critical to moving the issue further away from public neglect to the front burner of policy. Media has a great function within any public health system, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. It is worth noting that new media such as social media has enhanced communication and knowledge management for health, as it has bridged the gap between persons, establishments and systems, and has deepened potential for targeted and non-targeted messaging with the potential to boost public health communication of all kinds.

To leverage these tools we have to begin to understand the data on utilization of the media forms and social media adoption in policy, programme and perception management for public health outcomes. The good part is there has been marked public health interest lately in this domain. NTDs can leverage the lessons learned from other programmes in order to move forward.

5. Why is Nigeria a focus when it comes to NTD control and elimination?

Let’s play back to 2014; Nigeria received its Guinea Worm Eradication Certificate from the World Health Organisation — an achievement that made headlines. In the same year, Nigeria managed to free itself from the Ebola Virus Disease pandemic that ravaged several African countries, and the world heaved a sigh of relief. Even though Ebola is not one of the NTDs, it further emphasized the potential of good stewardship, financing and sheer determination at the frontlines.

Nigeria’s success is critical to the fight against NTDs because Nigeria holds the highest NTD burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria’s NTD burden reduction will have a significant impact on the global burden of NTDs, considering that for some time now, Nigeria has been regularly ranked in the top 10 nations with the highest NTD burden. Now we have the opportunity to reduce the NTD burden through sustainable funding and effective implementation of programmes.


 

Dr. Ohanyido is the Global Network’s National NTD Advisor in Nigeria. Stationed in Abuja, he works with national NTD partners to strengthen stakeholders’ advocacy efforts for Nigeria’s NTD programme. Over the last 15 years, Ohanyido has worked with diverse international organizations like UNHCR, UNICEF, and WHO across Africa, as well as various USAID projects in Nigeria. He has also served as an Advisor to the Senate Committee on Health in Nigeria. Recently, he served as the National Pneumonia Coordinator in Nigeria, in collaboration with USAID and UNICEF. 

He has a medical degree from University of Jos, and postgraduate trainings in diverse areas such as public health, information communications technology and management. He is a fellow of both the Royal Society for Public Health (UK) and the Royal Society for Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (UK), and Senior Fellow of the Academy of Learning Nigeria. He is a martial artist, poet and strong advocate for African Renaissance.

Can We Nudge the Budget? Our Experience at the END7 Student Advocacy Day

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By Anjali Bhatla, Cyrus Ghaznavi and Sri Gopakumar
Rice University Undergraduates 

On a bright spring morning in Washington, D.C., we stood outside the U.S. Capitol in the middle of a whirlwind, 32-hour trip from Houston, Texas.  As we stood in the clearance line to enter the Capitol Visitors Center, we reviewed our materials to prepare for a day of meetings with congressional offices to advocate for a global health issue that each of us has become very passionate about. When we were invited by the Global Network to attend the first-ever END7 Student Advocacy Day on April 22, we realized that this would be a rare opportunity for us to get involved with the political process surrounding the federal budget  and lend our voice in support of neglected tropical disease (NTD) treatment.

This semester, we founded a campus chapter of the END7 campaign at Rice University after we were all separately introduced to the issue of NTDs by Dr. Peter Hotez, President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the founding dean of the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston and a Baker Institute Fellow in Disease and Poverty at Rice University. Whether it was through working for Dr. Hotez or taking his seminar class, the three of us have been deeply moved by what he has taught us about NTDs – an important but neglected global health issue.

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NTDs have been shown to perpetuate the cycle of poverty by impairing physical and cognitive development, decreasing economic productivity, negatively affecting maternal and child health, and socially stigmatizing those that are afflicted. END7 at Rice is taking a three-pronged approach to addressing the need for greater investment in NTD prevention and treatment through committees focused on marketing, fundraising and advocacy. To increase awareness of NTDs in our community, we plan to implement creative events, programming and social media campaigns across campus.  And, through our END7 chapter, we hope to facilitate an exchange of ideas on how to address health disparities in the developing world.

We are particularly concerned about the funding gap for NTD treatment programs. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Neglected Tropical Disease program has been essential in providing NTD treatments around the world – more than 1.2 billion to date – but proposed cuts to the program’s funding in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget could stifle and potentially reverse the progress already made by the program to the NTD elimination effort. Having just started Rice’s END7 chapter, we decided that going to DC would teach us valuable lessons we could bring back to Houston and provide us with a greater context for our chapter’s goals.

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On the morning of the event, we gathered in a wood-paneled conference room in the Capitol Visitors Center and received a briefing on the global effort against NTDs from leaders of the Global Network, USAID, RTI International and WASH Advocates. Then we split into small groups for our afternoon meetings in congressional offices with each person taking on a particular role. One student would provide some background for their involvement in the END7 campaign: “I’ve been able to travel to countries including Haiti and India, where NTDs are endemic, and have seen firsthand the socioeconomic impacts these diseases have.” Another would carefully lay out the key statistics: “1 in 6 people are infected with an NTD!…more than one billion people in all!…every $1 of taxpayer funding leverages $26 worth of donated drugs, an incredible return on investment!” A third student would paint a holistic picture of the budgetary issue at hand and hammer in the final message: “Funding the USAID NTD Program is critical to solving this global health problem. Maintaining our momentum is essential and we don’t want to lose the good work we’ve done.” Then we answered questions about NTDs and USAID’s work to educate our leaders and their staff about this key global health issue. We concluded our meetings by inviting members of Congress to join either the Senate Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases or the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs (one U.S. Representative joined that same day!) and delivering student signatures on END7’s petition to increase NTD funding to $125 million in FY 2016. (We had collected nearly 200 signatures on our campus alone!)

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At the end of the day, our time on the Hill brought the conversation surrounding NTDs alive for us in a new way. We learned so much during our time in Washington that we didn’t mind missing a few classes (even though finals were just around the corner!). Advocating alongside leaders of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and fellow student supporters of the END7 campaign in meetings in congressional offices opened our eyes to the importance of public policy in the fight against NTDs. As aspiring physicians, we hope to become civically minded professionals who can communicate information effectively to our lawmakers. By engaging in the political process during the END7 Student Advocacy Day, we learned the importance of the student voice in advocating for NTD treatment. We genuinely hope that our message was well-received: the USAID NTD program budget is a best buy in global health and increased funding is needed to allow the progress of USAID’s NTD program to continue. We are excited to see that the 24 Hill meetings students participated in on April 22 have already made an impact, with the addition of a new representative to the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs and positive signs of increased support from key leaders. As students around the country mobilize around this cause, we hope the U.S. government takes a leading role in prioritizing NTD funding in the FY2016 budget and contributes crucial resources toward the NTD fight. We hope to return to D.C. next year to continue engaging in the political process as citizens, students and future medical professionals dedicated to seeing the end of NTDs.

You can support END7’s advocacy to protect and increase the USAID NTD budget by sending a message to your Senator. Learn more in our infographic and this Buzzfeed post created by student supporters and be sure to check out the END7 Student Advisory Board’s op-ed in the Hill!