Global coalition Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) hosted a high-level virtual event called "Power the Partnership: End the Neglect" on Thursday, in an effort to highlight the ongoing global efforts to put an end to NTDs.
Uniting to Combat NTDs is a global partnership that brings together a variety of partners, including donor and endemic countries, private sector players, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, research institutions, the World Health Organization (WHO), and more.
Thursday’s event, which was originally set to be hosted in Kigali, Rwanda prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, featured international journalist Femi Oke, broadcaster Henry Bonsu, and writer, actor, and comedian Loyiso Madinga as the moderators for the day. The event showcased more than 40 prominent speakers, including Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand; Dr. Volda Lawrence, Guyana’s minister of health; Dr. Eteni Longondo, minister of health for the Democratic Republic of Congo; Dr. Katey Einterz Owen, director for NTDs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Michael Sheldrick, chief policy and government affairs officer at Global Citizen; and many others.
The discussion topics ranged from success in NTD programs to gaps and priorities for the global health community as we look to the future of global health.
This event comes just several months after the world celebrated its first-ever World NTD Day on Jan. 30, which was created to spark international dialogue around NTDs and to call on world leaders to commit to eliminating them.
NTDs are a set of parasitic and bacterial diseases that have severe side effects. They blind, disfigure, and debilitate people in the poorest regions of the world, according to the WHO.
But despite the very real public health threat these diseases cause, they are often overlooked. Here are three key takeaways from "Power the Partnership: End the Neglect" that remind us of the need to address NTDs around the world.
1. There has been great progress since the London Declaration.
Since the London Declaration on NTDs was signed in 2012, 32 countries have eliminated at least one NTD. In 2018 alone, 1 billion people received treatment and 1.7 billion treatments were donated by the pharmaceutical industry that same year, according to Uniting to Combat NTDs.
The Uniting to Combat NTDs coalition even helped set a Guinness World Record for the most medication donated in 24 hours in January 2017, when more 200 million doses went sent to distribution sites across six countries.
Still, NTDs continue to affect 1.7 billion people around the world.
2. The WHO’s new road map will focus on all NTDs.
Dr. Mwele Malecela, director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the WHO, joined the event to discuss the road map being set by the WHO for 2021-2030. She said the focus moving forward will be on looking all of the NTDs and not just a few, to ensure all the diseases are addressed. She also shared the key differences from the 2012-2020 road map.
First, the road map will shift from measuring process to measuring impact; it will look at adopting a more holistic approach to tackling the NTDs — meaning efforts will be linking to water and sanitation, as well as other programs in the health system, and will also address mental health, disability, and more.
Malecela also added that the new plans will look to move from partner- or donor-supported programs to country-owned and/or financed.
She said they have outlined gaps that exist, too. There is a lack of diagnostics, monitoring systems, and issues with supply chains and logistics.
These issues, she noted, are the same as the ones the world is facing with COVID-19.
"Access and logistics are key issues around the COVID pandemic, as well as monitoring and evaluation," Malecela said.
She added that the road map will resonate with the NTD community, as well as the broader health community, especially when looking at the pandemic response.
And it is important to not just try to address one NTD.
"You can start talking about one and end up talking about the others very easily," she said. "One person can be affected by two, or three, or even four of these diseases."
Tackling NTDs is a vital part of tackling Global Goal 3 for good health and well-being for all overall — as good health cannot be achieved globally if more than 1 billion people are being left behind.
"The power behind the roadmap is togetherness. We are indeed stronger together, always. And I think the NTD community is a very strong and committed community," she said, adding that now is the time to rally together for results.
3. Now is the time for action.
The goal of this event was to inspire people to take action on NTDs around the world. A video at the top of the event noted that "this is the decade of NTDs. The decade we make the invisible, visible."
And so it was fitting that the summit ended with a call to action from Dame Helen Mirren and actor Brian Cox. They asked all participants to click a link and send a tweet, pledging their commitment to tackling NTDs. Global Citizens can join that same fight and vow to take action on ending these diseases for good.
Today I am proud to join @CombatNTDs’ campaign to end the neglect of neglected tropical diseases. Over 1.7 billion people around the world are affected by these diseases which disable, disfigure and can be fatal. Join me to #EndTheNeglect of NTDs: https://t.co/e2BsMwFCaM— Youth Combating NTDs (@YouthCNTDs) June 25, 2020