Nearly 1.8 billion people require treatment for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Many of these diseases can be easily prevented or treated, yet only 43 percent of people are receiving the treatment they need for the most common NTDs.
In this time of resource scarcity, our collective commitment to the poorest communities should not wane. Yet, the traditional donor-supported model is not a sustainable solution. Increasingly, the global health and development community has been promoting the concept of country ownership as a critical issue of sustainability for country programs. In order to build programs that will live on past the life of a grant or the passing interest of a donor country, affected nations need independent, self-sustaining systems that are domestically organized and funded. This is not country ownership, but rather country leadership.
This country leadership was solidified when health ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the Addis Ababa Commitment on NTDs at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May. Nearly two dozen African countries signed this declaration in December 2014, pledging to increase domestic investment, promote multi-sector approaches, encourage adoption of data-driven, long-term strategic plans and ensure mutual support of NTD programs and overall health systems.
This Commitment heralds a new development model, where low- and middle-income countries partner together to invest in and lead their own development with support from the global community.
The Addis Commitment exemplifies the partnership required to create a successful health system through political, financial and technical reciprocity between donor countries and endemic countries. While financial assistance is a critical stepping stone on the road to self-sufficiency, the real value comes from building proficiencies and systems that will last long after the money has been spent.
Taking on 17 diseases with names like schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and dracunculiasis may seem daunting. Yet earlier this year the World Health Organization (WHO) set targets for intensified control, elimination or eradication of all of these neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020.
In the past, NTDs were tackled vertically, or one by one, even in parts of the world where people were at risk for multiple infections. For decades the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the WHO, has chipped away at this huge global health challenge by passing resolutions that address individual NTDs.
But yesterday the WHA passed a landmark resolution that for the first time takes on all 17 NTDs at once. The resolution reinforces the approach that the global health community has taken recently to combat NTDs, which focuses on combining treatment programs for the most common NTDs to achieve cost reductions and increase coverage.
This is significant not only because it more effectively addresses these pervasive diseases of poverty; it also elevates the status of diseases that individually would not attract such attention, despite their tremendous impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations. Now is the time for action. As Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network, notes in the video below:
“Collectively, these 17 diseases affect a billion and a half people around the world and these are the billion and a half people that live on less than a $1.25 a day. This resolution means that governments around the world will actually institute policies and put money towards tropical diseases programs to change the predicament of the poorest communities.”
For full coverage of the WHA resolution, visit the WHO’s Neglected tropical diseases page.
Today at the United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon expresses the impact of addressing issues affecting mothers and children:
Every woman, Every Child. This focus is long overdue. With the launch of the Global Strategy for Womens and Childrens Health, we have an opportunity to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world, and in so doing, to improve the lives of all people.