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Efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases in Africa forge ahead despite the pandemic

Governments in eleven countries in Africa delivered more than 35 million preventative treatments for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in 2020, despite COVID-19.

The announcement comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) launches on January 28 a new NTD road map targeting the elimination of these ancient conditions everywhere. World NTD Day will also be marked two days later on 30 January as iconic buildings across the world are lit up, both to celebrate the progress made so far in combatting NTDs and to call for further awareness, action and investment.

With the support of Sightsavers and partners, the millions of NTD treatments delivered despite the pandemic are helping to combat a set of preventable and treatable infections which affect more than one billion people worldwide. A further 133 million treatments are due to be delivered by March this year.

Tens of thousands of community health volunteers and teachers have been trained to meet the challenges of COVID-19 whilst delivering NTD treatments. Special drug distribution measures include wearing masks, social distancing and delivering antibiotics house-to-house rather than group distribution at a central location.

Simon Bush, Director of NTDs at Sightsavers, said:

“It is vital that our work continues even in these challenging times. NTDs can cause severe debilitating and lifelong physical and visual impairment, and the science tells us that they can be eliminated. Communities where NTDs are endemic are ready to work with partners to see them stamped out to protect future generations.

“We need to make sure not only that gains already made are not lost but that we continue to support some of the most marginalised communities even when times are difficult. Our work over the last year has shown that we can do that.

Nigeria became the first Sightsavers-supported country to resume work on NTDs post a COVID-19 lockdown. Between July and September 2020, around one million people in the northwestern state of Jigawa received antibiotics to treat the painful and potentially blinding disease, trachoma.

Sunday Isiyaku, Sightavers’ country director in Nigeria, says:

“This has been a major achievement and we are very proud to have been able to resume drug administration so soon. The communities see that we have put in place COVID-mitigation measures and have continued to welcome us. They know how important the work is.”

The new WHO roadmap sets global targets for the prevention, control, elimination and eradication of 20 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and disease groups. The overarching 2030 global targets are to:

  • reduce by 90% the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs
  • eliminate at least one NTD in 100 countries
  • eradicate two diseases (dracunculiasis and yaws)
  • reduce by 75% the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) related to NTDs

For World NTD Day, buildings to be lit up around the world include: the Coliseum in Rome, the Great Wall of China, the Giza Pyramids in Egypt and the African Renaissance Monument in Senegal.

Notes to Editor:

1. Sightsavers treats five NTDs: trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis and intestinal worms.

2. The COVID-19 outbreak meant that some NTD community-based activity, including mass drug administration programmes (MDA), had to be paused in line with WHO guidance released in April. Some work, including surgery, home-base care and ongoing clinical treatment, continued where safe to do so, and MDA work restarted in July as soon as safety and local restrictions permitted.

3. The Ascend West and Central Africa programme – funded by UK aid and run in conjunction with SCI Foundation, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and Mott MacDonald - is working to protect millions of people from NTDs in Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone.

4. The Accelerate programme – run by Sightsavers and receiving fundingfrom the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, The ELMA Foundation, UK aid and Virgin Unite - aims to eliminate trachoma as a public health risk in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Namibia and Senegal.

5. Sightsavers is an international organisation that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent avoidable blindness, treat and eliminate neglected tropical disease, and promote the rights of people with disabilities. It is a registered UK charity (Registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110)

6. Globally 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment and of these, at least 1 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed. This burden weighs more heavily on poorer countries, and on marginalised communities. And projections show that global demand for eye care is set to surge in the coming years.

7. In the seven decades since its foundation, Sightsavers has:

  • Supported more than 1.2 BILLION treatments for neglected tropical diseases
  • Carried out more than 7.7 million cataract operations to restore sight
  • Carried out more than 196 million eye examinations
  • Dispensed more than 4.6 million glasses

8. Sightsavers holds Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status, making us one of the only international non-governmental organisations to hold this status in the UK. We conduct high quality research to address global gaps in knowledge and put research findings into practice by feeding them back into the design of our programmes.

For further details, contact:

Louise Byrne

Media Officer, Sightsavers
M. 078148-32611