WHO commemorates World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day with focus on promoting health equity

The World Health Organization (WHO) kicked off this year's commemoration of World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day under the theme 'Achieving health equity to end the neglect of poverty-related diseases' with a call to focus more on strengthening interventions in order to promote equitable health services for all.

In his concluding remarks during a virtual event to mark this year's World NTD Day, Dr Ren Minghui WHO's Assistant Director-General who leads the Division of Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases said celebrating progress reminds us of additional work required to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to end the epidemics of NTDs.

He said WHO will continue to work with countries endemic for NTDs and with all partners to help those who are suffering from these preventable diseases and ensure that no one is left behind.

So let us not limit ourselves to a one-day commemoration, but rather make every day an NTD day by working together and encouraging the global health community to fight these diseases of poverty."

Dr Ren Minghui, WHO's Assistant Director-General

World NTD Day – a largely partners-initiated commemorative day - is celebrated on 30 January. This year is WHO's first participation following last year's recognition by the World Health Assembly. This year, it coincides with World Leprosy Day which has traditionally been commemorated on the last Sunday of January.

The inaugural celebration by partners was in 2020. In 2021, and to coincide with the launch on 28 January of the NTD road map for 2021-2030, many events were held worldwide including the illumination of several iconic buildings to shine a light on the suffering these diseases cause.

Today's virtual event brought together messages from a host of personalities, including WHO's Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who thanked everyone for continuing their hard work in providing health services, despite the pandemic.

The event also heard from the newly created Group of Friends on Defeating NTDs about how diplomats who represent their countries at the United Nations in New York plan to work to raise the profile of NTDs.

Powerful messages also came from Professor Alice Cruz, UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members who called for a stop to all forms of discrimination against people suffering from NTDs, particularly leprosy.

"We need action. Action that promotes material equality through redistributive policies that can guarantee a minimum standard of living to persons affected by NTDs, alongside equitable access to public goods and services. Organizations and networks of persons affected are a key resource to strengthen action and its reach" said Professor Cruz. She also praised the vibrant global NTD community for their work.

"So, let us be guided by this community and join efforts to fight endemic social injustice and make real a people-centered paradigm that puts the well-being of persons, communities and populations first" she said.

In his message, Senator Stan Kutcher from Canada spoke of the need to invest in NTDs to improve the lives of the poorest people and support the road map targets for 2030. He also spoke of his country's support to address issues related to gender equality and the promotion and welfare of women and girls.

Professor Keizo Takemi, WHO's Goodwill Ambassador for Universal Health Coverage focused on NTD services as an 'integrated package of care' and how they address issues beyond health, including stigma and social exclusion.

"It is time to take action and further integrate NTD interventions into primary health care. In doing so, we can secure their sustainability while contributing to stronger, more resilient and more far-reaching health systems" said Professor Takemi.

Good news about guinea-worm disease came through an announcement from Ms Paige Alexander, Chief Executive Officer of The Carter Center. She announced that only 14 cases human cases of dracunculiasis medinensis occurred in 2021 – the lowest since the global eradication campaign began in the mid-1980s. Animal infections have also decreased, pointing to encouraging signs that the eradication programme is progressing well.

The one-hour programme also featured stories about those who live with debilitating conditions triggered by NTDs and testimonies from people. These showed how health systems are working hard to inform and educate people about NTDs, resulting in increased willingness to seek medical treatment in hospitals and care centres.

Entertainment was also part of the agenda, with brilliant musical performances from many artists.

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