In Nigeria and across Africa, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a daily reality for many children, families and communities. Despite efforts to control and eliminate them, trachoma, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), lymphatic filariasis, leprosy, onchocerciasis (river blindness), soil-transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis continue to threaten Nigeria’s citizens.
NTDs disable and disfigure more than 1 billion people around the world. Beyond the lives impacted, NTDs also limit economic productivity and development, helping to perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty.
However, I believe we have an immense opportunity to break this cycle and address these diseases in the near future. Indeed, in recent years we have made tremendous gains against NTDs.
Much of this progress was catalyzed by the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs, which united international pharmaceutical companies, global health organizations, private foundations and governments from donor and endemic countries behind the goal of controlling and eliminating 10 of these diseases by the end of the decade.
This partnership was a turning point for NTDs. Shortly after, I made NTD control a personal priority and joined the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases as a Special Envoy to help raise awareness of the urgent need to combat these diseases and improve the health of our citizens.
In Paris this week, global leaders gathered to discuss the gains made since the launch of this partnership. I was pleased to hear African country leadership heralded as a crucial force on progress against NTDs. Much of this progress was highlighted in the Uniting to Combat NTDs: Delivering on Promises and Driving Progress report released this week.
Globally, 74 countries —including Nigeria— now have national plans to guide their NTD efforts. Last year, all 47 Ministers of Health in the WHO Africa Regional Office endorsed a regional plan to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis in Africa and strengthen efforts to eliminate other NTDs. Governments around the world passed a resolution at the 2013 World Health Assembly to hold themselves accountable on progress against NTDs.
Most importantly, these frameworks are not just symbolic documents that have been signed and forgotten. Countries are taking ownership of the issue because they recognize that NTDs cause needless suffering across families, communities and countries.
This is translating to progress on the ground. Nigeria has become a model for other countries on NTD efforts, launching its national plan for NTD control, making strong progress in mapping disease prevalence and successfully verifying its elimination of Guinea worm.
Around the world, efforts to combat NTDs are being scaled up. US$2.7 billion has been committed to the effort. Pharmaceutical companies have donated 100 percent of drugs needed and are working together to develop more effective drugs and diagnostics. Global health organizations and enterprises are working to ensure treatments reach those in need, and new partners are joining the effort.
As we look to 2020, we cannot allow our successes to make us complacent. While significant progress has been made, challenges remain in reaching our targets against NTDs. Only with sustained leadership of endemic governments and strategic partner collaboration can we fully eliminate NTDs from the African continent and world.
As a former President of Ghana, I encourage Heads of State and Ministers to join the global effort against NTDs and work hand in hand with the global community to ensure every child and person who needs treatments receives them. Collectively, we can spur the development and implementation of integrated NTD plans, incorporate NTDs into our existing health efforts and build the capacity needed to address these diseases. By doing this, we can provide comprehensive care to all of our citizens.
Investing in NTDs is an investment in a healthy and prosperous future for Africa. Each dollar not only improves health, but also gives individuals the ability to rise out of poverty and contribute productively to society. Together, we can and will reach our goals and give our communities new hope for the future.
John Agyekum Kufuor is the former president of Ghana (2001-2009) and former chairperson of the African Union Commission (2007-2008). He is currently the NTD Special Envoy for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases.