Dr Martin Kollmann
Consultant Ophthalmologist and Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) affect over one billion of the world’s poorest people. We look at how international collaboration and partnerships are starting to turn the tide of misery.
“NTDs trap people in a poverty cycle because they cause chronically disabling conditions and disability in turn is a cause of poverty,” explains Professor K.H. Martin Kollmann, Senior Advisor on NTDs for CBM. “Eighty percent of disabled people live in developing countries. There is evidence for NTD-associated stigma it’s harder for blind women to get husbands; disabled people find it harder to get work and are often socially excluded; research also shows that people affected by conditions like elephantiasis can suffer from anxieties and depression.”
“CBM’s focus is now on boosting efforts at both international and grass roots levels to create fully comprehensive and inclusive systems, integrated into national government programmes, to break the cycle”, says Dr Kollmann. “Comprehensive in this context means that NTD work not only prevents and cures diseases but also provides rehabilitation opportunities for people already living with a disability. Inclusive systems ensure that everyone in society is reached and that people with disabilities and other marginalised groups are not excluded.”
Neglected tropical diseases trap people in a poverty cycle.
“In some societies, for example, water points or toilets are not accessible for people with disabilities; we need to ensure that all people have access to clean water and good sanitation. Designing universal access means working closely with the local communities and disability organisations and to address education and mental health.”
Coalition and inter-sectoral efforts have been successfully ramped up in the last 5-10 years, Dr Kollmann says, with stakeholders coming together to influence international policies and support organisations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, engage governments to set national policies, and work through the coalitions’ member organisations to implement them at a local level.
Success breeds success.
“Several countries have now eliminated Trachoma [a painful condition which can cause irrevocable blindness], which demonstrates success,” says Dr Kollmann. “We also now know what this success costs and can demonstrate cost efficiency, which is attractive to corporate and government donors like DFID in the UK. Also, for several NTDs drugs, can be distributed at the same time through the same distribution networks, helping eliminate several diseases, which means a good return on investment for investors.”
Though the distribution of these donated drugs is very positive, he warns that we must not ignore people already affected by disability, by only focusing on demonstrably successful prevention schemes like drug distribution and vector control. “The continuum of care must not be forgotten. It’s not ‘either or’.”
At community level, Dr Kollmann says women are often both the most affected and the most effective. “Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness,” he explains. “Children need clean faces to interrupt transmission. Women are very quick to pick up the importance of keeping hands and faces clean and translate that into the local communities, and to pass it on to the next generations. School health is also very important in this context. The NTD community welcomes that there’s a big focus now on equity – including women, children and people with disabilities in programmes is crucial to success..”
Several countries have now eliminated Trachoma, which demonstrates success.
He points out that with international and local organisations collaborating on NTDs, involving several related sectors, NTD programmes can be used for targeted investments to the most marginalised communities and to trace progress towards the UN’s 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, a global pledge to ‘Leave No-One Behind’.
“As individuals we should each have an interest, and hold our governments more accountable,” says Dr Kollmann. “This is not about charity, it’s about inclusive development, and the empowerment of entire nations.”
Below is a CBM video, which shows a disabled woman receiving TT surgery in Uganda:
CBM’s 2016 NTD report can be found here