While COVID-19 has certainly taken centerstage when it comes to global health news over the last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) is now drawing attention to a different health crisis.
The WHO launched its new roadmap for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) on Thursday at a global virtual event, outlining its plans to tackle these diseases from 2021 to 2030 ahead of World NTD Day on Saturday.
“At its core, this roadmap aims to put people first. It involves working across sectors in delivering programs for all the 20 NTDs and promote equity and country ownership,” Dr. Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, director, WHO Department of Control of NTDs, said. “To do so, programs have to be sustainable with measurable outcomes, backed by adequate domestic financing.”
Jan. 30 marks the second annual World NTD Day and offers an opportunity for international dialogue on the need to end these debilitating diseases.
A key theme of the launch event — and the roadmap itself — is the idea of working together to tackle NTDs globally. Various government representatives, WHO officials, philanthropists, industry advocates and experts, as well as poets and musicians attended the event, which also included WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“If we are to end the scourge of neglected tropical diseases, we urgently need to do things differently,” Dr. Tedros said. “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 advocacy tool sets out plans to tackle 20 diseases that affect more than 1 billion people, specifically impacting the poorest people in communities lacking in access to quality health care, as well as clean water and sanitation.
The roadmap, which was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in November 2020, was mapped out in a way that aims to address gaps across disease interventions by integrating and mainstreaming approaches and actions within national health systems and across sectors, according to the WHO.
It was created in consultation with countries, partners, and stakeholders, as well as scientific and academic experts and sets progressive targets — with the significant aim of providing more ownership to national and local governments.
Some notable 2030 goals include reducing by 90% the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs; aiming for at least 100 countries to eliminate at least one NTD; and fully eradicating two diseases (dracunculiasis and yaws).
There are many other “cross-cutting” goals like reducing by more than 75% the number of deaths from vector-borne NTDs; promoting full access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in areas with NTDs; and better collecting and reporting NTD data, specifically categorized by gender.
Over the last 10 years, the WHO notes that there has been great progress in tackling NTDs. There are 600 million fewer people at risk of NTDs and 42 countries successfully eliminated at least one in that timeframe.
The Kigali Summit on NTDs and Malaria, which was postponed due to COVID-19, will take place in June 2021 and will call on world leaders to recommit to tackling NTDs, urging them to provide new funding to be able to successfully do so.