I have written about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) for Impatient Optimists before―diseases with long names, horrific symptoms, and a knack for keeping communities trapped in poverty.
Fighting these diseases is not easy. The global burden is huge―one in six people on the planet are disabled or debilitated by an NTD―and they mostly affect the poorest people who lack voices to demand change. As result, NTDs and the people who suffer from them are often ignored by policymakers and remain invisible to the general public.
We are working to change this. Last time on the blog, I introduced our revolutionary PSA, How to Shock a Celebrity, which has collected nearly half a million views since and heightened awareness of NTDs around the world. This time, there is even more exciting news.
Recently, we have been thrilled to see NTDs take the spotlight at three prominent international policy forums―the African Union (AU), the World Health Assembly (WHA), and the Organization of American States (OAS).
These new demonstrations of political will are catapulting the global movement against NTDs to new heights, and they are indicative of transforming attitudes among policymakers toward the importance of seeing the end of these diseases.
First, NTDs were highlighted at the AU. At the end of April, African leaders took a major step toward promoting country ownership for NTDs during the 6th Conference of African Union Ministers of Health in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For the first time, African health ministers collectively acknowledged the need for African countries and development partners to increase support for NTD control and elimination programs. Their leadership sends a bold signal to the international community that governments in endemic countries not only recognize NTDs as a serious threat, they also have the capacity to fight back.
Next, NTDs were featured at the WHA. In mid-May, delegates at the WHA adopted a resolution calling for heightened and integrated measures to defeat NTDs. The WHA, which is the decision-making body of World Health Organization, has previously addressed individual NTDs, but this is the first time that the effectiveness of addressing multiple diseases simultaneously was highlighted. WHA’s resolution strengthens the global health community’s increasingly integrated response to fighting the most common NTDs.
Finally, a major NTD elimination resolution was passed by the OAS. In early June, heads of state from the Western Hemisphere endorsed the Pan American Health Organization’s 2009 resolution, Elimination of Neglected Diseases and Other Poverty-Related Infections, which called for endemic countries in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region to use integrated disease treatment efforts to control or eliminate NTDs in by 2015. PAHO’s resolution was a great step forward in the global fight against NTDs, and with endorsement by the OAS heads of state, it will be powerfully amplified to ensure that PAHO’s and WHO’s NTD goals are met on time in the LAC region.
We are confident that eliminating the most common NTDs as a public health threat by 2020 is possible, but not without broad support by the world community. The role of policymakers in this process is just as important to stopping NTDs as the community health workers who administer drugs in affected communities. The heightened response from global and regional policymakers this year is inspiring, and it demonstrates to us that our advocacy efforts are taking hold. Policy engagement is more than just a nice idea― it’s an important part of the solution.
We hope you will join us. Visit us at END7.org and be part of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.