NAIROBI – March 29, 2021 – After years of wrangling and debates among African leaders, the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases is gaining real momentum, with a new commitment signed to end the NTDs by 2030.
The African Union and Uniting to Combat NTDs signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) across African member states by 2030.
To ensure sustainable progress is achieved, countries should take the lead in controlling these diseases and the conditions that cause them.
This comes a year later after the African Union Commission in March 2020 held its first experts’ meeting on NTDs to advocate for prioritising the fight against NTD levels through the allocation of sufficient resources to strengthen national programmes.
The meeting also revised the African Union Continental Framework for NTDs (2021–2030) and the Common African Position on NTDs.
The 19 March 2022 agreement highlights the African Union’s commitment to strengthen collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders to control and eliminate twenty NTDs, achieving the vision outlined by the “Agenda 2063 ‘The Africa We Want'” framework.
This MOU shows bold leadership and the highest level of commitment to NTDs by the African Union, prioritising them in line with other infectious diseases.
H.E. Amb. Cessouma Minata Samate said the AU Commission is committed to the attainment of Aspiration one, Goal three of Agenda 2063; of well-nourished and health citizens and that they are also committed to work in collaboration with partners in order to progress the elimination of NTDs on the African Continent.
“We are delighted to be signing this MOU with Uniting to Combat NTDs which will advance advocacy on NTDs. As we have seen, the past two years have been dominated by COVID-19 and other diseases we have suffered as a result. It’s good that we are coming together at this time to make progress on these diseases that have not had the attention they deserve.” H.E. Amb. Cessouma Minata Samate said.
The NTDs include trachoma, intestinal worms, leprosy, and elephantiasis, these diseases are preventable and treatable, yet they still affect 1.7 billion people around the world, with the African continent accounting for about 40% of the total global burden.
Despite the relatively low mortality resulting from NTDs (around 500,000 deaths globally per year) these diseases and conditions are associated with severe complications including blindness, disfigurement, social stigmatization, mental health problems, chronic pain, cognitive impairment, and other long term irreversible damage causing impediments to education, employment, economic growth, and overall development.
The African countries have been making tremendous progress in the fight against these diseases, showing that NTD goals are achievable.
Several member states have achieved ambitious elimination targets, including Ghana, Morocco and The Gambia eliminating blinding trachoma; Egypt, Togo and Malawi eliminating lymphatic filariasis; and Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Uganda eliminating Guinea worm disease.
Ms Thoko Elphick-Pooley, the executive Director, Uniting to Combat NTDs said the agreement aims to provide guidance to Member States on fighting NTDs on the continent and that delivery of essential health services was been impacted by COVID-19.
“This MOU couldn’t have come at a more perfect time; the new MOU will advance the implementation of the Continental Framework on NTDs and the Common Africa Position, with a strong focus on increased country leadership and ownership of national NTD programmes, matched by increased allocation of domestic resources.” Mr Thoko Elphick said.
Although it is true that African countries have been making tremendous progress in the fight against these diseases showing that NTD goals are achievable, they have also met difficulties along the way.
Records indicate that several member states have achieved ambitious elimination targets, including Ghana, Morocco and The Gambia eliminating blinding trachoma; Egypt, Togo and Malawi eliminating lymphatic filariasis; and Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Uganda eliminating Guinea worm disease.
Ms Thoko Elphick adds that however, the job is not yet done. More work is needed to sustain these gains and bring more countries across the finish line adding that significant challenges remain in the journey to eliminate NTDs, such as poor integration of and coordination between the various programs working within the NTDs arena and insufficient and unstable funding, as well as climate change, conflict, and emerging threats like COVID-19.
The MOU on NTDs comes in advance of The Kigali Summit on Malaria and NTDs, to be held alongside the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Rwanda in June this year.
Reports from Member states indicate that at the Summit, Heads of State, will launch the Kigali Declaration on NTDs – a high-level, political declaration which aims to mobilise political will and secure commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3) target on NTDs and to deliver the targets set out in the World Health Organization’s Neglected Tropical Disease Roadmap (2021-2030).