By: Anupama Tantri and Deepanjali Jain
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (GN) would like to congratulate Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh on her appointment as the new World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for South-East Asia.
Dr. Khetrapal Singh will oversee a regional office whose eleven member states account for 54 percent of the world’s population that requires preventative treatment for NTDs.
The WHO South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO) plays a leading role in advancing NTD control and elimination efforts across this region. In 2012, in partnership with member countries, SEARO released the Regional Strategic Framework for Elimination of Kala Azar, a goal it aims to achieve by 2015.
In addition to region level advocacy and planning, SEARO’s leadership is helping its member states achieve key milestones in the path towards the control and elimination of NTDs. In 2013, the 90 percent deworming coverage among both preschool and school-age children, is now focused on scaling up its LF elimination program. East Timor, the region’s newest member, developed a national integrated plan for the control of NTDs in 2013, and is preparing to launch its national program this year. India, which accounts for 35 percent of the global burden for NTDs, currently manages the largest LF elimination program in the world, reaching more than 300 million people annually. Indonesia is also making great strides in strengthening its LF elimination program and is committed to eliminating schistosomiasis.
However, these success stories will not be repeated throughout South East Asia unless more resources are dedicated to the scaling-up of existing integrated NTD control programs. For example, India and Indonesia are only reaching a fraction of the 60 million children, respectively, in need of deworming. Trachoma elimination efforts are still weak and more resources are needed to better understand the current burden and impact of existing programs.
With a distinguished career and more than 30 years of experience in the health sector, Dr. Khetrapal Singh will be an invaluable asset to the region and is well positioned to lead the region towards meeting NTD control and elimination goals. Prior to her first appointment with the WHO, Dr. Khetrapal Singh was a member of the Indian Administrative Service and served as the Secretary of Health, Family and Medical Welfare with the Government of Punjab. In her last post as Deputy Regional Director of SEARO, Dr. Khetrapal Singh was responsible for resource mobilization in the region, and for the creation of partnerships with public, private and non-profit organizations. Her skills and knowledge of the region have already greatly contributed to NTD control and elimination successes in South East Asia.
We are confident that under Dr. Khetrapal Singh’s leadership SEARO will continue the push to end the burden of NTDs and the South East Asia region will emerge as a global leader for the implementation of sustainable and effective NTD control and elimination programs.
Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the tipping point for the world’s poor.”
The London Declaration has served as a roadmap to improve the lives of the 1.4 billion people worldwide affected by NTDs, most of whom are among the world’s poorest. Since then, regional committees, endemic and donor countries, NGO and pharmaceutical partners throughout the world committed to and prioritized controlling and eliminating NTDs. Eliminating NTDs is understood to be one of the most cost-effective and comprehensive ways to achieve development goals and eliminate poverty. While we still have a long way to go, measured progress has been made and we’re feeling optimistic about the route to 2020, and we know that with increased funds and political commitment, the number of people needlessly suffering from NTDs will decrease.
In Asia this past year:
- 6 countries started the process to verify elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF) – an extremely painful and debilitating NTD
- 6 countries reached the global target of deworming at least 75% of school-aged children
- India’s Joint Secretary in the Ministry on Health, Dr. Anshu Prakash, stated the country’s commitment to the controlling and eliminating of NTDs – an important announcement considering India bears 35% of the world’s burden for NTDs
- Following the launch of the Regional Strategic Plans for WPRO and SEARO, more than 10 countries across Asia and the Pacific updated their national plans and renewed their commitment to end NTDs, and East Timor is preparing to launch its national program this year.
- The called for increased domestic investment in NTD control and elimination
- The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 63rd
passed a regional strategic plan to accelerate achievements
- Three African countries launched national integrated master NTD plans – Uganda in September – totaling more than 30 African countries with such plans.
- This spring, we learned that Togo is soon to become the first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate LF
And in Latin America and the Caribbean:
- The Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution in June 2013 endorsing the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) goal of control and elimination of NTDs by 2015
- In July 2013, Colombia became the first country in the Americas to receive certification of onchocerciasis elimination – and as of the end of 2013, 25 million children at risk for intestinal worms received treatment and 10 out of the 12 million people requiring treatment for LF are receiving it
- Central American forums and committees highlighted the importance of NTD treatment – including the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA) who recognized the importance of NTDs in regards to the 2020 sustainable development goals.
- 17 of 20 priority countries in the region have either launched comprehensive NTD plans or have drafts
While the progress in these regions is promising, more needs to be done by both endemic countries and partners. If we are to truly eliminate poverty and the diseases that perpetuate it, we need sustained support from all stakeholders: endemic countries, donors, regional and global committees, NGOs and more. As managing director of the Global Network, Dr. Neeraj Mistry, recently stated in an op-ed, NTD control and elimination efforts must also integrated into broader efforts to eliminate poverty and achieve global development goals:
“By including NTDs and specific targets in the post-2015 development agenda, we will support country-led efforts to reach control and elimination goals, improve the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people, and accelerate progress in global poverty reduction.”
Ending the 10 most common NTDs by 2020 was an ambitious goal but the progress of the last two years proves the global community is up for the challenge, and will continue to fight until NTDs no longer exist.
By Anupama Tantri and Anna Johnston
In late August, the Philippines Department of Health held their Second National NTD Stakeholders Forum, an impressive demonstration of commitment from all levels of the government and partners from across multiple sectors to come together to end NTDs.
Throughout the forum, participants discussed the importance of advocacy in helping the country and region achieve control and elimination goals. Their commitment was made clear by developing and signing a “Wall of Commitment,” which represents their partnership for an NTD-free Philippines. This wall will serve as a signal and reminder of the country’s commitment to end the six most prominent NTDs in the Philippines by the 2018 deadline.
The national government worked alongside local political representation including Governors and other Local Chief Executives – to showcase support for this commitment to eliminate the burden of NTDs. The local political leaders are central to the success of NTD control and elimination efforts and have a key role to play in promoting public-private partnerships, building consensus among stakeholders, and supporting community awareness and mass-media at a provincial level.
The Journal of Tropical Medicine reports that 28 out of 81 provinces are endemic for Schistosomiasis resulting in 12 million people being exposed to the disease.
While the Philippines has among the highest burden of NTDs around the world, significant progress is being made to address this burden. The government is focused on scaling up mass drug administration, training on vector management, integrated programs that include safe water and sanitation practices, and monitoring systems.
The event was a collaborative effort by the Philippines Department of Health, United States Agency for International Development and FHI360, an international non-governmental organization.
Storytelling is at the crux of our work at the END7 campaign and our mission to control and eliminate seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020.
We know that before people will take action to support any issue or cause, they have to be informed, inspired and connected to it. That’s why we’re working to ensure that people are aware of more than just the facts about NTDs, and that they also have an opportunity to see and hear the real stories of families and communities who are struggling to fight and overcome these diseases.
We were thrilled to recently meet another group that shares our same vision of making positive change through storytelling – Join the Lights. A creative media non-profit, Join the Lights is partnering with us to document and share the progress toward controlling NTDs in Myanmar. The country’s latest nationwide mass drug administration campaign took place just last week, with support from END7.
This wasn’t Join the Lights’ first experience with NTDs. Film crew members Davis, Tim and Kevin shared with us that they have already needed to seek treatment for parasitic diseases like intestinal worms and schistosomiasis over the past year while they’ve been traveling to remote parts of Latin America, Africa and South East Asia.
While they’ve had their own experiences battling NTDs, traveling with END7 and our partners allowed Join the Lights to witness what NTD control efforts are like on a large scale. This year’s campaign involved extensive logistics to deliver medicines around the country and the training and mobilization of community health workers to deliver treatments to more than 20 million people – half of them children – in a period of just one week.
We’re thankful to have the added power of Join the Lights’ storytelling expertise behind us in our efforts to control and eliminate NTDs in Myanmar and around the world.
You can follow along with them on Facebook to see the progress on their work, and stay tuned for us to share the final product later this year!