Dr Caroline Harper CBE
Efforts to tackle neglected tropical diseases are a global health success story, but we need firm commitments to free the world from them.
The Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases is a once-in-a-decade opportunity. It is the chance for governments and partners to make firm commitments and put the elimination and control of neglected tropical diseases (NTDS) back on track – ending the suffering they cause to 1.7 billion people around the world.
The London Declaration on NTDs 10 years ago led to one of the most successful public health initiatives in history. Now those pledges need to be renewed, refreshed and supplemented.
Ghana, The Gambia and Togo’s success in eliminating trachoma prove it is possible to end these diseases of poverty. Other countries like Malawi and Benin are getting close to eliminating trachoma. Togo has eliminated lymphatic filariasis (LF). River blindness has been eliminated from three states in Nigeria. We must build on this hard-won progress and push over the finishing line to ensure these diseases of poverty no longer affect billions.
So close but yet so far…
There are reasons to be optimistic, several countries are on the brink of submitting their evidence for trachoma elimination. More are making progress on LF and river blindness. Donors are stepping up to fill some of the funding gaps. Pharmaceutical companies are keeping their pledges to donate treatments.
But this final stretch will be the hardest. National governments are showing great leadership but need support. It takes a global village to eliminate disease, and everyone must play their part. Not just governments, but international donors and pharmaceutical companies; scientists researching new ways to prevent the transmission of these diseases; and community volunteers going door-to-door to make sure no one is left behind.
We need to deliver on promises made to people like seven-year-old Muzi from Nigeria, in agony and missing school because of trachoma, a disease which pulls eyelashes inwards, scraping the and eye causing irreversible blindness.
Livelihoods are at stake. We need to step up and deliver, right to the end.
Making our pledge
Sightsavers are 100% committed to ending the suffering caused by these terrible diseases. We are global leaders and have been fighting NTDs from the earliest days of research and mapping more than 60 years ago – before some of today’s treatments were available.
We have local employees in 32 countries across Africa supporting governments to fight five debilitating NTDs – river blindness, LF, schistosomiasis, intestinal worms and trachoma. We work in collaboration with governments, other development organisations, pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists, the World Health Organization and endemic communities
We support thousands of local volunteers to distribute donated medicines to millions of people and share how good hygiene prevents infection. We have supported more than 1.5 billion NTD treatments to date.
There are challenges such as resource gaps and conflict zones from which we will not shy away. As our recent work delivering trachoma treatments in Yemen showed.
At Kigali we will be announcing a substantial new investment in NTDs – not just a pledge but a firm commitment where the money has already been raised. We will also be announcing a special tribute to Her Majesty the Queen in her Platinum Jubilee Year.
Time for action
We have a lot to live up to. Thanks to the London Declaration 600 million people are no longer at risk from NTDs.
We can’t stop now. We must harness the opportunities presented by the Kigali Summit and make sure we respond in concrete action, not just words.