2020 will be remembered by many of us as the year during which a devastating pandemic hit the world — but it also marks a landmark year in the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
This year, the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs — a collective commitment that united private companies, donors, world leaders, and health organizations to eliminate 10 NTDs by 2020 — is drawing to a close, with only a decade left to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals at large.
When this declaration was adopted, it had ambitious goals that required unprecedented levels of collaboration between the private and public sectors.
Eight years following its launch, record-shattering milestones have been reached thanks to 13 pharmaceutical companies and frontline workers that have played a crucial role in bringing a multi-level partnership to life, ensuring that life-saving treatments are able to reach everyone on the planet.
Drug donations programs are a crucial component of this collaboration — and their scale is impressive. For every dollar invested, pharmaceutical companies can help deliver up to $26 of drugs to those who need them the most, according to USAID.
Industry leaders like GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and Pfizer have contributed over 12 billion NTD treatments in what the Guinness Book of Recordsdescribed as the largest drug donation program ever launched in history, according to Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (UTC).
In 2017 alone, more than 200 million donated doses were donated across the world in less than 24 hours, thanks to a renewed focus on strengthening supply chains, UTC told Global Citizen by email.
Further to donations, pharmaceutical companies have also contributed to remarkable innovations in disease mapping, making it easier to effectively prevent, screen, and treat those affected by NTDs on a community level, a recent report by UTC shows.
As a result, significant progress has been achieved in the last decade.
Some 1 billion people around the world benefited from these treatments in the last five years alone, lowering the number of people in need of NTD-related interventions by 500 million since 2010, according to UTC.
What’s more, 42 countries — including Malawi, Ghana, Togo, Nepal, and Vanuatu — have successfully eliminated at least one NTD since 2010, UTC notes. According to the organization, nine countries have eliminated trachoma, 19 are free from lymphatic filariasis, and Guinea worm disease is on the brink of eradication worldwide, with only 24 cases reported so far in 2020 compared to around 10,000 in 2009.
UTC Director Thoko Elphick-Pooley says hitting these milestones wouldn’t have been possible without the help of pharmaceutical companies.
“Without the drug donation program, the progress we are seeing on NTDs today would simply not exist,” she told Global Citizen. “The sheer scale of these donation programs have encouraged more partners to join the partnership, which is an incredible achievement in itself.”
However, there’s still need for improvement.
The World Health Organization’s NTD roadmap, revised this past April, calls on countries to eradicate NTDs in 100 countries by 2030. As shown by COVID-19, achieving this target will require public-private actors to collaborate and ramp up resources to deal with competing health priorities.
Renewed commitments from partners could help expand the scale and reach of donation programs, Elphick-Pooley said. At a time when the pandemic is threatening to reverse decades of progress in the fight against NTDs, this could very well be a determining factor in the future of global health.
With just 0.6% of global health funding currently going to preventing NTDs, new commitments are desperately needed to safeguard the progress made towards their elimination. You can join us in calling on world leaders to renew the London Declaration and to mobilize new financial pledges of $1.5 billion to help accelerate progress towards by taking action here.