In an important new paper, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, captures why defeating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is so critical. He writes, “The overall context of NTD control is the contribution it makes to the alleviation of poverty and improved social and economic prospects of individuals and communities.”
Given NTDs’ profound impact on poverty — and the potential for their control and elimination to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and targets set in the post-2015 development agenda — NTD partners must do everything possible to ensure World Health Organization (WHO) targets are met by 2020.
Before outlining the key challenges and actions needed to overcome them, Professor Molyneux recognizes advancements made in the global NTD fight.
For instance, in 2006, the U.S. committed resources to implement integrated NTD control programs through historic resolution on all 17 NTDs in May 2013.
2013 was also a milestone year because the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel Lancet editorial reiterated the importance of addressing NTDs in the Sustainable Development Goals, and in summer 2014, the draft SDGs featured NTDs under proposed goal 3, “Attain healthy lives for all.”
Efforts in endemic countries have also led to successes. For instance, innovations in mapping disease burdens and diagnostics prove that “defining the areas of intervention can be undertaken rapidly and without the need for invasive or intrusive procedures [which have] been a contributing factor in the successful scale up of mass drug administration.” Community Directed Treatment (CDTI) and the reliance on existing infrastructure have helped “ensure that drugs are collected and distributed in ways that are best decided by the communities themselves.”
Yet remaining challenges could threaten the tremendous momentum attained to-date. The challenges — and their solutions— according to Professor Molyneux include:
Implementation. Even though “over the past 3 years, in excess of 700 million treatments have been given annually” for the seven most common NTDs, efforts must be scaled up to reach all at-risk people, especially in conflict areas.
Application of research. While the NTD community has produced a rich body of research, “moving policy into practice needs to be accelerated.”
With the progress made thus far, there is clearly no choice but to continue the good work being carried out and expand efforts where current challenges lie.
To read the paper,
In a recently-released policy brief, partners from the global health community continue to urge all United Nations (UN) Member States to ensure that the forthcoming post-2015 framework include specific targets for the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs); Doing so would reduce human suffering, increase economic prosperity and help achieve greater global equality for more than one billion people affected by NTDs in the developing world.
Because NTDs have far reaching effects on several other poverty and development interventions – such as efforts to increase maternal and child health, combat HIV/AIDS and increase school attendance and nutrition – the inclusion of NTDs in the post-2015 framework would be a win for not just the NTD community, but for all those seeking to end poverty, increase health and boost prosperity.
Even more, when integrated with water and sanitation, nutrition, child and maternal health, and education initiatives, NTD control and elimination efforts are proven more effective and sustainable. The overlapping nature of NTDs should be clearly stated in the final post-2015 development agenda, state the co-signers of the policy brief.
Investing in the control and elimination is a “best buy” and one of the most cost-effective health interventions in global health. For approximately US $0.50 per person per year, we can treat and prevent these diseases and in turn improve nutrition, education, maternal and child health, and HIV outcomes, and set the stage for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
UN Secretary General has already echoed the importance of NTD control and elimination efforts in the fight against poverty. “I share your view that poverty reduction and the elimination of NTDs go hand-in-hand,” he said in October, 2013.
NTDs have already been included in the UN High Level Panel’s final 2013 report on the post-2015 agenda; in the World Health Assembly’s May 2014 resolution on health and the post-2015 development agenda; and, just last week in the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals’ final draft of the Proposed Sustainable Development Goals and Targets for the post-2015 agenda.
While the inclusion of NTDs in the preceding reports and resolutions is a very promising sign, government leaders must continue to support the inclusion of health goals and targets for NTDs during the Member State negotiations throughout the coming year. This continued support will help build momentum leading up to the final post-2015 development agenda and its ultimate approval in the fall of 2015.
To read the full brief, click here.
The following post is an opinion piece from Jeanne Chauffour, a student at the University of Chicago*
Health is a human right. This phrase is clearly stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), along with a long list of other highly-held treaties and conventions. For countries having ratified these treaties, the right to health should be strongly defended. Unfortunately, health is still a commodity or unattainable luxury for millions of people around the world – both in developed and developing nations.
Longstanding efforts certainly exist to remedy the great health inequalities of our time; millions of dollars a year are donated to large organizations, agencies, and bodies who strive to improve health and wellbeing in the most impoverished settings across the world. And for the most part, they have done good work – we have reduced maternal mortality rates, and the AIDS-free generation is a tangible reality. Yet, one health issue that continues to be underfunded and underprioritzed is neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs.
Health is a human right. And NTDs are a serious health concern. There are seventeen NTDs that currently plague our planet , seven of which represent 90 percent of the global burden. NTDs are the most common affliction among the world’s poorest people, but they are often ignored because they mostly infect those living in rural poverty. The individuals infected with NTDs are rarely the focus of media attention.
NTDs have been referred to as “the forgotten disease of the forgotten people,” causing disfigurement (swollen abdomens and limbs), rashes, and inverted eyelashes, and fueling stigma making it harder for those affected to break the cycle of poverty. NTDs can also lead to long-term disabilities and other health issues such as blindness. In many cultures, the condition of those suffering from NTDs is perceived to be a curse or a sin, and the stigma can affect an entire family. I cannot even come close to imagining the life and mental health conditions of the millions of people worldwide living with NTDs.
NTDs can also cause stunted growth and malnutrition. In addition, NTDs are directly correlated to the first six Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, that have guided our international development efforts over the past fourteen years. Our failure to adequately address the NTD burden may have contributed to our failure to reach many of the MDGs, which will be replaced by new UN goals later this year.
The unfortunate truth is that some diseases that affect western communities (such as cancer, diabetes or HIV/AIDS) are propelled to the forefront of research, while other treatable diseases not found in the developed world receive less attention and funding. NTDs have been around for hundreds of years, and some of their treatments are decades old, yet they lag behind other conditions in the attention they receive from the global community.
Luckily, a solution exists, and recent efforts have raised the visibility of NTDs on the global health agenda. On January 30, 2012, the London Declaration on NTDs was signed by the WHO, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, thirteen pharmaceutical companies, and leaders from the US, UK and UAE. These stakeholders committed to ensuring the resources necessary to end the public health threat of ten of the most common NTDs by 2020, and progress since has been impressive.
Even more, some countries have been successful in eradicating or eliminating NTDs over the past few years: Oman has eliminated trachoma, Colombia has eliminated onchocerciasis, and Nigeria eradicated guinea worm disease. In all, over 70 countries have developed multi-year integrated NTD plans, and the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a landmark resolution on all 17 NTDs in May 2013.
The London Declaration has been a huge step forward in solidifying the commitment of pharmaceutical companies to donate the medicine needed to protect a person from the seven most common NTDs for one whole year. National governments coordinate the distribution of the medicine with local health workers who administer the medicine during annual mass drug administrations (MDAs). But a large funding gap persists that limits our efforts to scale up treatment to everyone who needs it.
Health is a human right. And so are many other things: free speech, choice of religion, participation in civic and political life and education. Yet, health is and should be perceived as one of the fundamental rights humans have, without which the exercise of their other rights and freedoms is limited or nonexistent. Health more than any other factor determines livelihood and the capacity to improve one’s own condition.
Health is the driving mechanism to generate wealth, access, and success in many other types of activities – being able to vote, being able to go to school, contributing to the progress and growth of your country’s economy, being able to choose a respectful partner and have healthy children of your own.
Health is a human right, and any phrase related to health with the word “neglected” in its title must find justice, especially when we are equipped with all the tools that we need to succeed. It is only when these basic health inequities will be solved that our world will truly be able to pull the most and the best from individuals’ potential. Health is a human right.
*Jeanne Chauffour is a rising fourth year undergraduate student at The University of Chicago where she studies in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine (HIPSS) and Human Rights departments. Jeanne is the 2014-2015 Internal Co-President at GlobeMed at the University of Chicago, a student global health non-profit organization she has been a part of since her freshman year. Jeanne is also involved in community health with Students for Health Equity, the Student Health Advisory Board, the University of Chicago Center for Global Health, and Ci3. In October 2014, Jeanne will be a delegate at the Millennium Campus Conference.
What makes a life worth living? For many of us, it’s our relationships with our families and loved ones, the ability to follow our passions, excel at work, and improve opportunities for ourselves and future generations.
While tremendous efforts are underway to prevent deaths worldwide, guaranteeing survival is not enough. We must also strive to ensure that every human lives a life of quality.
Nearly half the world’s population is robbed of the minimum requirements that allow them to reach their full potential. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), parasitic and infectious diseases affecting 1.4 billion people worldwide, debilitate entire families and communities. They cause anemia and malnutrition, and can lead to blindness, school absenteeism, disfiguration and the loss of livelihoods. NTDs drastically weaken a person’s health and cause unnecessary suffering.
At the basic level, access to adequate nutrition, the opportunity to be educated, the ability to enjoy human interaction, and the right to prosper and contribute to society all make a life worth living. Yet NTDs rob the billion and a half people living in poverty of these basic needs and undermine other development challenges like maternal and child health. In order to flourish, these needs must be met.
Life isn’t just about the number of days we live, but the quality of those days. Every human, no matter where they were born, has the right to a fulfilled life and the right to determine their own future.
By fighting NTDs, we can help protect the health of the world’s poor and vastly improve their quality of life, increasing opportunity and equality. And it’s inexpensive and easy to do so. For less than 50 cents per person per year, we can control and eliminate NTDs altogether within the decade.
Solving this global health challenge will require collective action. In an e-world where communication is often reduced to three letter acronyms, LwL – Life worth Living is a way of thinking about and raising awareness of the social, psychological and developmental impacts of NTDs. LwL has universal appeal as self-examination for “haves” and “have-nots” in a broader understanding and value of life. As a concerned global community, we can work together to ensure all people have the tools they need to live their life worth living.
LwL is a symbol that reminds us to be mindful as we go about our daily lives and reflect on what constitutes a life worth living – not only for us in the healthy or developed world, but for those suffering from poor health and poverty as well. If we as a community can reflect on LwL, we can help ensure a healthier and happier life for all.