One year closer to ending neglected tropical diseases

By Dr. Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of bacterial and parasitic diseases that infect more than 1 billion people living in poverty around the world.

It’s the start of a new year, and in many ways the beginning of 2013 is like all others.  People make lists, set goals and get ready to start fresh and achieve great things. For the global health and development community, we are a year closer to achieving a larger goal — controlling and eliminating neglected tropical disease (NTDs) by 2020.

Photo Caption: A child leads his grandfather who has gone blind from onchocerciasis, one of the most common NTDs. Photo by Olivier Asselin, courtesy of Sabin Vaccine Institute.

One in six people worldwide are infected with NTDs, diseases that cause blindness, malnutrition, anemia and other disabilities.  Not only are these diseases devastating to people’s health, they also reduce worker productivity and school attendance, reinforcing poverty in affected communities.

This month we’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of a more unified effort to tackle this big challenge. And the best part is that we already have a viable solution; many of these diseases are treatable using existing medicines donated by industry partners.

Last January a group of public and private partners came together to address NTDs. They endorsed The London Declaration on NTDs, an unprecedented pledge to work toward the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of controlling or eliminating 10 NTDs by 2020.

The progress of the last year is detailed in a new report, where major milestones include:

- More than 1 billion treatments donated by partners in the pharmaceutical industry
- National NTD control and elimination plans developed in more than 40 affected countries
- A new scorecard to track progress and increase transparency

This report was issued in coordination with a second progress report from WHO, documenting the specific efforts of partners and affected countries in the past two years, which have helped to fast-track many programs in order to achieve measurable impact.

On this important anniversary, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, in partnership with Hudson Institute’s Center for Science in Public Policy, also released a new report, “Social and Economic Impact Review on Neglected Tropical Diseases,” highlighting the crucial links between NTDs and broader economic and societal consequences.

Director-General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan, commended the progress, and noted: “The challenge now is to strengthen capacity of national disease programmes in endemic countries and streamline supply chains to get the drugs to the people who need them, when they need them.”

If success breeds more success, then the accomplishments detailed in these reports are surely indicative of accelerated progress in the years to come. So break out the champagne and raise a glass—but be ready to roll up your sleeves, because there’s more work to be done!

Wondering how you can get involved? The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases invites you to join our END7 campaign.  You can learn more about these diseases and take action through our Facebook page or by visiting our website.  Together we can see the end.