A new plan released by World Health Organization (WHO) for combating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) proposes innovative method to tackle up to 20 diseases which affect more than a billion people. These diseases which affects the world’s poor population thrives mostly in areas where access to quality health services, clean water and sanitation is scarce.
The roadmap which proposes a 90% reduction in the need for treatment for NTDs by 2030 has on top of the list the eradication of dracunculiasis (guinea worm) and yaws. The plan which portrays an ending to the neglect, to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: a road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030, also aims to speed up action and increase momentum by proposing concrete actions focused on integrated platforms for delivery of interventions, and thereby improve programme cost– effectiveness and coverage.
The roadmap has been endorsed by the World Health Assembly (WHA 73(33)) in November 2020.
“If we are to end the scourge of neglected tropical diseases, we urgently need to do things differently,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. He went further to say “This means injecting new energy into our efforts and working together in new ways to get prevention and treatment for all these diseases, to everyone who needs it.”
The effect of Neglected Tropical Diseases
NTDs affect over 1 billion people globally. These causes pain and disability, creating lasting health, social and economic consequences for individuals and societies. NTDs often prevent children from going to school and adults from going to work. These also traps communities in cycles of poverty and inequity. People affected by disabilities and impairments caused by NTDs often experience stigma within their communities, hindering their access to needed care and leading to social isolation.
A Roadmap Built on People-centered Approach
The road map is established to address critical loops across multiple diseases by integrating and mainstreaming approaches and actions within national health systems, and across sectors.
According to Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela “At its core, this road map aims to put people first. It involves working across sectors in delivering programmes for all the 20 NTDs and promote equity and country ownership”. Dr. Malecela who is a director at the WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases further expressed that “to do so programmes have to be sustainable with measurable outcomes, backed by adequate domestic financing.”
Developed through a wide consultative process involving countries, partners, stakeholders, the scientific community and academia, the roadmap provides opportunities to evaluate, assess and adjust programmatic actions as and when needed over the next decade, by setting clear targets and milestones.
Another salient feature of the roadmap is to drive greater ownership by national and local governments, including communities.
According to the roadmap document, the all-encompassing 2030 global targets focuses on the followings:
• reduction by up to 90% the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs
• at least 100 countries to have eliminated at least one NTD
• eradication of two diseases (dracunculiasis and yaws)
• reduction by up to 75% the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to NTD
Furthermore, the road map will track 10 cross-cutting targets and disease specific targets that include a reduction by more than 75% in the number of deaths from vector-borne NTDs such as dengue, leishmaniasis and others, promote full access to basic water supply, sanitation and hygiene in areas endemic for NTDs and achieve greater improvement in collecting and reporting NTD data disaggregated by gender.
Despite progress, challenges must be overcome; In the past decade, significant gains have been achieved, resulting in 600 million fewer people at risk of NTDs, which contrast substantially with the figure just a decade ago and with 42 countries eliminating at least one NTD, including some defeating multiple NTDs.
Additionally, global programmatic actions treated more than 1 billion people a year for 5 consecutive years between 2015 – 2019.
Nonetheless, great challenges remain in high numbers, including global phenomenal such as climate change, conflict, emerging zoonotic and environmental health threats, as well as continued inequalities in access to healthcare services, adequate housing, safe water and sanitation.
There are also major gaps in current intervention packages of diagnostics, treatment and service delivery models.