To­gether, we can make progress against ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases

Daily Trust - - VIEWS - By John Agyekum Ku­fuor Ku­fuor, for­mer pres­i­dent of Ghana, is the NTD Spe­cial En­voy for the Global Net­work for Ne­glected Trop­i­cal Dis­eases.

In Nigeria and across Africa, ne­glected trop­i­cal dis­eases (NTDs) are a daily re­al­ity for many chil­dren, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. De­spite ef­forts to con­trol and elim­i­nate them, tra­choma, hu­man African try­panoso­mi­a­sis (sleep­ing sick­ness), lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis, lep­rosy, on­chocer­ci­a­sis (river blind­ness), soil­trans­mit­ted helminths and schis­to­so­mi­a­sis con­tinue to threaten Nigeria’s cit­i­zens.

NTDs dis­able and dis­fig­ure more than 1 bil­lion people around the world. Be­yond the lives im­pacted, NTDs also limit eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity and de­vel­op­ment, help­ing to per­pet­u­ate a vi­cious cy­cle of poverty.

How­ever, I be­lieve we have an im­mense op­por­tu­nity to break this cy­cle and ad­dress these dis­eases in the near fu­ture. In­deed, in re­cent years we have made tremen­dous gains against NTDs.

Much of this progress was cat­alyzed by the 2012 Lon­don Dec­la­ra­tion on NTDs, which united in­ter­na­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies, global health or­ga­ni­za­tions, pri­vate foun­da­tions and gov­ern­ments from donor and en­demic coun­tries be­hind the goal of con­trol­ling and elim­i­nat­ing 10 of these dis­eases by the end of the decade.

This part­ner­ship was a turn­ing point for NTDs. Shortly af­ter, I made NTD con­trol a per­sonal pri­or­ity and joined the Global Net­work for Ne­glected Trop­i­cal Dis­eases as a Spe­cial En­voy to help raise aware­ness of the ur­gent need to com­bat these dis­eases and im­prove the health of our cit­i­zens.

In Paris this week, global lead­ers gath­ered to dis­cuss the gains made since the launch of this part­ner­ship. I was pleased to hear African coun­try lead­er­ship her­alded as a cru­cial force on progress against NTDs. Much of this progress was high­lighted in the Unit­ing to Com­bat NTDs: De­liv­er­ing on Prom­ises and Driv­ing Progress re­port re­leased this week.

Glob­ally, 74 coun­tries —in­clud­ing Nigeria— now have na­tional plans to guide their NTD ef­forts. Last year, all 47 Min­is­ters of Health in the WHO Africa Re­gional Of­fice en­dorsed a re­gional plan to elim­i­nate lym­phatic fi­lar­i­a­sis and on­chocer­ci­a­sis in Africa and strengthen ef­forts to elim­i­nate other NTDs. Gov­ern­ments around the world passed a res­o­lu­tion at the 2013 World Health As­sem­bly to hold them­selves ac­count­able on progress against NTDs.

Most im­por­tantly, these frame­works are not just sym­bolic documents that have been signed and for­got­ten. Coun­tries are tak­ing own­er­ship of the is­sue be­cause they rec­og­nize that NTDs cause need­less suf­fer­ing across fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties and coun­tries.

This is trans­lat­ing to progress on the ground. Nigeria has be­come a model for other coun­tries on NTD ef­forts, launch­ing its na­tional plan for NTD con­trol, mak­ing strong progress in map­ping dis­ease preva­lence and suc­cess­fully ver­i­fy­ing its elim­i­na­tion of Guinea worm.

Around the world, ef­forts to com­bat NTDs are be­ing scaled up. US$2.7 bil­lion has been com­mit­ted to the ef­fort. Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have do­nated 100 per­cent of drugs needed and are work­ing to­gether to de­velop more ef­fec­tive drugs and di­ag­nos­tics. Global health or­ga­ni­za­tions and en­ter­prises are work­ing to en­sure treat­ments reach those in need, and new part­ners are join­ing the ef­fort.

As we look to 2020, we can­not al­low our suc­cesses to make us com­pla­cent. While sig­nif­i­cant progress has been made, chal­lenges re­main in reach­ing our tar­gets against NTDs. Only with sus­tained lead­er­ship of en­demic gov­ern­ments and strate­gic part­ner col­lab­o­ra­tion can we fully elim­i­nate NTDs from the African con­ti­nent and world.

As a for­mer Pres­i­dent of Ghana, I en­cour­age Heads of State and Min­is­ters to join the global ef­fort against NTDs and work hand in hand with the global com­mu­nity to en­sure ev­ery child and per­son who needs treat­ments re­ceives them. Col­lec­tively, we can spur the de­vel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of in­te­grated NTD plans, in­cor­po­rate NTDs into our ex­ist­ing health ef­forts and build the ca­pac­ity needed to ad­dress these dis­eases. By do­ing this, we can pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive care to all of our cit­i­zens.

In­vest­ing in NTDs is an in­vest­ment in a healthy and pros­per­ous fu­ture for Africa. Each dol­lar not only im­proves health, but also gives in­di­vid­u­als the abil­ity to rise out of poverty and con­trib­ute pro­duc­tively to so­ci­ety. To­gether, we can and will reach our goals and give our com­mu­ni­ties new hope for the fu­ture.

In­vest­ing in NTDs is an in­vest­ment in a healthy and pros­per­ous fu­ture for Africa. Each dol­lar not only im­proves health, but also gives in­di­vid­u­als the abil­ity to rise out of poverty and con­trib­ute pro­duc­tively to so­ci­ety. To­gether, we can and will reach our goals and give our com­mu­ni­ties new hope for the fu­ture.

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