A major step forward in the fight against NTDs!

Posted by Elaine Ireland on 07 February 2012

Monday 30 January 2012, may have been a normal Monday for many of you, but for those of us working on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) it was a truly momentous occasion. It was a day that Sightsavers was very proud to be a part of and a day that will, hopefully, prove to be a defining moment in efforts to control and eliminate many of the 17 NTDs that affect more than a billion of the world's poorest people.

What was this momentous occasion, I hear you ask. Two critical events, forming a day-long series of meetings brought together governments of NTD-endemic countries, bi-lateral and multi-lateral donor agencies, private foundations, pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and NGOs. The significance of these two events, was that for the very first time, all of the key stakeholders working on NTDs were together in the same room, making a series of critical commitments and demonstrating a willingness to work together jointly to play their part in helping to control, eradicate and eliminate up to 11 NTDs, in a number of countries, by 2020. It is incredibly rare, in the world of international development, to see this level of convergence amongst such a range of interests – so not only were the commitments themselves momentous and inspiring, but so too was the commitment to working in partnership.

Weeks of work with the UK Coalition against NTDs and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ensured that both events went well. Sightsavers, in its role as a founding member of the UK Coalition against NTDs, played a key part in pulling together the second event of the day – an afternoon long discussion on how the various actors listed above could each play a part in helping to eliminate NTDs, where this is possible, and controlling those NTDs that can’t be eliminated but that have devastating consequences for those who are affected by them.

But what exactly was it that made these events so special? The morning event, organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, saw the launch of the WHO’s roadmap to eliminate NTDs and resulted in 15 concrete commitments being made to combat NTDs. Amongst the most significant were:

• Mozambique, aiming to treat 27 million people per year for NTDs by 2015.
DFID committing £245 million for NTD control and elimination including support for Onchocerciasis, trachoma, Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis and Guinea Worm.
• Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committing $340 million, over 5 years, to support efforts to control & eliminate NTDs.
The World Bank, allocating $745 million to strengthen health systems, including those that will help to control & eliminate NTDs.
GlaxoSmithKline, expanding and extending donations of medicines for control and elimination of NTDs.

The afternoon session saw Ministers from Mozambique, Bangladesh, Tanzania and Brazil endorse the London Declaration on NTDs and commit to:

• Including NTD control in national poverty reduction strategies.
• Using government resources to facilitate the scale up of treatment and monitor progress towards the WHO Road Map for the elimination of NTDs.
• Ensuring integration of NTD programmes into primary health care systems and expand the link between the health and education sectors.
• Strengthening existing health care systems to ensure access to treatment for NTDs including those NTDs that are not amenable to mass drug administration and morbidity management.

Never before have I seen so many commitments from such a wide range of stakeholders. For those who have been working on NTDs for many years, it was a truly moving and emotional day, filled with hope that neglected tropical diseases may become a thing of the past and that many tropical diseases such as Onchocerciasis (river blindness), trachoma, LF, Schistomiasis and others may be eliminated within our lifetimes – a great message of hope.

Please note that Sightsavers' blog posts are the opinions of the author and contributors, meant to encourage debate and discussion, and not Sightsavers' official policy positions, which can be found here.

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