The publication of the second report on Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases entitled “delivering on promised and driving progress” marks remarkable progress that has been achieved in the last two years in this field. In January 2012, the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases marked commitment from a wide range of organisations and industry to achieving the goals of the WHO roadmap to control, eliminate or eradicate ten of the NTDs.
To mark the launch of the report, on the 2nd April 2014 global leaders convened in Paris to discuss the progress that has been achieved so far. In this “conversation on progress”, Director-General of the WHO Margaret Chan thanked endemic countries, organisations and industries for their commitment to this cause, and commented that these diseases are no longer neglected as they are “shining a light” on these diseases which shackle over 1.6 billion people worldwide. Control of NTDs must be a priority in order to achieve the targets of the Millennium Development Goals as they affect the world’s poorest populations. Since the establishment of the NTD department in the WHO in 2005, effective advocacy has increased the profile of these ancient diseases, and they have been described as a “rags to riches story”.
In the two years following the London Declaration, which was endorsed by thirteen pharmaceutical companies, the drug donation pledges made by these companies have been fulfilled and in some cases surpassed. These donations allow countries to fulfil and increase the demand for treatment, and have resulted in the scaling up of control interventions as drug supply has been removed as a barrier to the control of a number of the NTDs. Seventy four countries, representing around two thirds of all NTD endemic countries have now developed national plans for the control of NTDs. This country ownership is an important factor in the increased commitment to control, eliminating and eradicating these diseases. Coupled with capacity building and political commitment NTD control can be a success. The adoption of a World Health Assembly resolution on all seventeen NTDs in May 2013 has been described as a “landmark” in NTD control. Not only does this resolution confirm country commitment to NTDs, but it marks a change in the way the world is approaching NTD control. Throughout the history of the WHO, there have been many resolutions adopted which focus on one or more of the NTDs, but the adoption of the 2013 resolution highlights the change to integrated approaches to NTD control. When we consider the NTDs collectively, they represent an enormous burden on human health, and many opportunities exist to control several of these diseases in combination.
New funding was also announced in conjunction with the report representing increased commitment from a range of partners representing a new collaboration to control soil-transmitted helminths. This collaboration and funding highlights how multi-partner and multi-sector collaboration is becoming increasingly important in NTD control.
The report highlights that commitment to NTDs has gained momentum since the London Declaration. In addition, the 2013 resolution on NTDs marks a global pledge by Member States to the control of these diseases that in turn can leverage even more commitment. In the last two years, the light has begun to shine brightly on these diseases that afflict the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. The control and elimination of NTDs is now recognised as one of the best investments in development. As the report states “much has been achieved, but much more work lies ahead”. We must continue to increase commitments and activities to control NTDs. The report highlights the success and fulfilment of commitments to the ten NTDs included in the London Declaration, but there remain seven of the defined NTDs without such multi-partner pledges of drug donations and increased funding.
World Health Day on the 7th April this year focusses on Vector Borne Diseases. This includes a number the NTDs such as leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness. We must build on these recent success and increased momentum and continue to combat these ancient diseases while the light continues to shine.
Ms Hayley Mableson is in the final stages of completing a PhD from the University of Edinburgh. Her research to date has focussed on global health advocacy and its application, with particular emphasis on the neglected tropical and zoonotic diseases.