A regional stakeholder consultative meeting to deliberate on fundraising and other challenges confronting the elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) has ended in Accra.
The three-day meeting which ended on Wednesday was under the aegis of World Health Organisation (WHO). It assembled over 100 participants from endemic African countries who affirmed their commitment to the mobilisation of funds to ensure the sustainability and implementation of NTDs programmes and policies in Africa.
The continent is home to about 50 per cent of the global burden of NTDs, affecting more than one billion people, recent reports have shown. This fact notwithstanding, Africa receives little attention relative to the disease. NTDs affect poor people living in marginalised communities.
NTDs require simple, safe and low-cost treatments that can be easily delivered to affected people and communities.
Some of the diseases are Leprosy, Guinea Worm, Trachoma, Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Filariasis. These diseases often disfigure and disable the infected persons; and account for an estimated 534,000 global deaths annually. They affect mostly women and children, leading to low output of work and high school dropout rate.
In an address read on his behalf, Dr Lewis Sambo, Country Director of WHO, said current momentum to control and eliminate targeted NTDs had accentuated the need for stronger leadership and better co-ordination.
He said it was worrying that diseases such as leprosy remained associated with images of mutilation, rejection and exclusion from society, which still persisted. He said the devastating nature of NTDs called for effective co-ordination and partnerships that were critical to the rapid scale up of interventions to control, eliminate or eradicate the diseases.
Dr Sambo said this called for exploration of new mechanisms that would enhance co-ordination of stakeholders and resource mobilisation to boost national capacities for reducing the burden of the diseases.
He explained that based on WHO Africa Regional Office (AFRO)-supported country, the current financial resource requirements for the entire Region for NTDs programme implementation within a five-year period was about 1.5 billion dollars, and called for new commitments and delivery on pledges at London event early this year.
Dr Sambo noted that in recognition of the huge burden of NTDs, the World Health Assembly and WHO Regional Committee for Africa had passed several resolutions calling for their control and elimination, and commended Ghana for making headway in eliminating some NTDs such as guinea worm and trachoma.
He said a new global and regional momentum now existed to accelerate progress towards eliminating or controlling NTDs in the African Region.
He disclosed that in response to the new momentum, AFRO has defined strategic areas which would be focused on to combat the NTDs. These include strengthening government ownership co-ordination, advocacy and partnership, enhancing planning for results, resource mobilisation and financial sustainability of national programmes, scaling up access to interventions, treatment and service delivery capacities and enhancing monitoring, evaluation and surveillance and operational research.
Dr Frank Nyonator, Acting Director-General, Ghana Health Service, hoped that the meeting would mark a turning point, placing NTDs on the same priority level as other public health programmes for public health policy makers and development partners.
"The wind of change now blowing in the arena of public health that seeks to devote equal attention to all public health programmmes including the neglected tropical diseases is welcome news," he sounded enthused.
According to him, this developing trend was given manifestation by the recent special announcement of over US$600 on 30 January, 2012 by 13 pharmaceutical companies, the Gates Foundation, USAID, DFID, the World Bank, and several endemic country governments who are uniting to strengthen global efforts to combat NTDs and drive progress toward WHO's 2020 control and elimination programme.