At the beginning of this week (28th January 2018), at the 30th African Union Heads of State Summit at Addis Ababa, the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) added Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) to their yearly disease progress scorecard.
Schistosoma mansoni is a human parasite that causes schistosomiasis. Credit: ChWeiss/Shutterstock.com
Together with malaria and maternal and child health, NTDS are featured as a top health priority for the continent on the scorecard, which is reviewed by African heads of state annually.
The main purpose of the collaboration between the World Health Organization and Uniting to Combat NTDs is to track the progress of treatment and prevention of the five most common NTDs including onchocerciasis, trachoma, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and helminthic infections transmitted via soil. The progresses made against these diseases would be targeted in 47 NTD-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
My government is determined to make sure we can take 'neglected' out of these diseases…Improving the health, education and productivity of our poorest citizens by eliminating NTDs can put Africa on the path to prosperity and universal health coverage. I urge my fellow African leaders to build on the progress already made and increase their efforts to tackle NTDs to make them a subject for much concerted effort and action at the African Union.”
Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia
NTDs affect the poorest and remote communities, and out of over 1.5 billion people at risk globally, 620 million are from Africa. Aside from causing hundreds of thousands of deaths yearly, the main issue is the cycle of poverty NTDs expose millions to; These diseases lead to disability, blindness, discrimination, stigma, disfiguration and subsequently parents unable to work and children who cannot attend school.
Thankfully, these five diseases can be treated with safe and cheap medications, donated by pharmaceutical companies and distributed to treat and prevent the diseases in large populations. This means that more people than ever before are being treated for these NTDs. This has been made possible due to the collaboration of private and public organizations. Over the last 5 years, the number of these infected cases has been reduced by 400 million worldwide.
Results have shown that in 2016, 40 million more individuals received preventive treatment for at least one NTD compared to 2015. The coverage index with these medications rose by double in 12 countries. Togo for example eliminated lymphatic filariasis as certified by WHO. Ghana and the Gambia have also eliminated trachoma.
Uniting to Combat NTDs has released a recent progress report last month in “Reaching a Billion: Ending Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Gateway to Universal Health Coverage.” Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Director at the Uniting to Combat NTDs Support Centre explained that these diseases affect the “poorest and most marginalized communities” and beating these diseases are important for the economic development of Africa.