World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day – a global call for progress
Following a year when a particular infectious disease was the most frequent topic of discussion, Neglected Tropical Diseases are again brought to attention at the upcoming World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of diseases common in tropical regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, where they affect over 1.7 billion people – the equivalent to 1 in 5 people globally. These diseases include trachoma (a bacterial eye infection), intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths – STH – and schistosomiasis or bilharzia – SCH), Guinea worm (or dracunculiasis), and a variety of other conditions. The large majority of NTDs can be easily prevented and/or treated, if only the individuals affected have access to clean water, sanitation, and affordable health services – essential basic human rights.
NTDs can be life-altering and significantly impact individuals and their families, causing disfigurement, blindness or other long-lasting health conditions. Those that affect children can be responsible for malnutrition, impaired cognitive development and growth, and missed days of school. In the long-term, children impacted by NTDs are less likely to continue studies and obtain high–paying jobs, while adults are stigmatised and/or unable to work, thus being less able to support themselves and their families. NTDs essentially perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
With the world’s first NTD Day taking place in 2020, last year was supposed to be a moment when Neglected Tropical Diseases would be a global health focus. A large gathering of country representatives and partners was planned for Kigali, Rwanda to endorse the new World Health Organisation (WHO) NTD Road Map to elimination by 2030, and the expectation was that we would bring these diseases to the fore and ramp up funding efforts. However, with the catastrophic impact of Covid-19, the immediate threat of the pandemic had to be prioritised, resulting in the majority of NTD programmes being paused, some for six months or longer, and hard-earned progress was derailed.
At CIFF, we doubled down on our efforts to support our partners over the past 12 months, as some projects were delayed or paused in order to maintain the safety of our grantees and project beneficiaries. Together with other philanthropic donors, we co-sponsored the NTDs Idea Forum to identify ground-breaking proposals to adapt, integrate, optimise and accelerate progress against NTDs in the face of the pandemic. While field activities to deliver mass drug administration (MDA), trachoma surgeries, and surveys were paused, our grantees kept searching for innovative ways to keep NTD programmes alive and bring them back on track as soon as possible.
The AcceleraTE programme made good progress in integrating global trachoma data into the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of NTDs (ESPEN) Portal, as well as adapting a WHO risk assessment and mitigation action (RAMA) tool to enable governments and implementing partners to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 and restart programmes. Less affected by the pandemic was The Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication programme, as the local teams were able to maintain surveillance, quickly identify and manage cases, and continue essential animal tethering and tracking activities in Chad and Ethiopia. We are still working closely with our partners to kickstart the innovative Deworming Innovation Fund programme, which will aim to reach a sustainable break in transmission of intestinal worms and schistosomiasis in four African countries, through innovation, partnership and increased national ownership.
This year begins with preparations for the second World NTD Day, which – subject to approval of the draft decision by the World Health Assembly in May – might become an official UN day. CIFF is again joining the social media campaign to raise awareness and build momentum to #BeatNTDs, and we are reaffirming our commitment to building resilient communities free of NTDs at the virtual launch of the new WHO NTD Roadmap, where our Executive Director for Africa, Faustina Fynn-Nyame will join the celebration with global partners. With a range of vaccines bringing an end in sight for the Covid-19 pandemic, we have much to look forward to in 2021 and this new decade. We will work together with our grantees and partners to #EndTheNeglect and accelerate progress towards a world free of NTDs, where children anywhere in the world are empowered to grow and reach their potential.