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Neglected no more, 20 tropical diseases move closer to elimination

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After eight years of driving through a global road map and four years through a regional strategy to eliminate neglected tropical diseases in Africa, delegates met in a RC69 evening side event to validate the work that had been done and agreed on new directions.

Neglected tropical diseases earned their name because they were relatively unknown and overlooked for decades. They can be destructive nonetheless, remaining a health threat to almost 600 million people in Africa. Countries in the WHO African Region bear about half of the global burden of neglected tropical diseases.

As part of the road map, the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN) was established in 2016 to help coordinate the efforts of governments, health and development organizations, donors and private companies in stamping out the neglected tropical diseases.

The ESPEN Partnership is credited with producing tremendous results to accelerate elimination of neglected tropical diseases by reaching communities never reached before with mass drug administration through improved supply chain management.

The work has paid off. Togo announced elimination of lymphatic filariasis in 2017, while Ghana eliminated trachoma in 2018. Kenya became the 41st country in the WHO African Region to be certified free of Guinea worm disease. Leprosy has nearly been eliminated as a public health problem, and the continent is on track to eliminate human African trypanosomiasis by 2020.

“These results show us what we can achieve together – as health technicians, partners and community health workers collectively striving to support and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti highlighted in her closing remarks at the side event.

She singled out transparency, data sharing and accountability as the major success factors. She reminded the delegates that eliminating neglected tropical diseases is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Moeti noted that the strategic framework to guide joint actions from 2021 to 2025 will inform development of the 2030 global road map to guide delivery of programmes across 20 neglected tropical diseases, while doubling as an advocacy tool to encourage continued commitment from the global community to wipe them out.

“I am confident that other countries in Africa will soon reach similar milestones,” she said, referring to the country successes highlighted above.