By Mary Hearty

A new progress report on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has revealed that more countries across the world have succeeded in eliminating at least one of the diseases, and more are in the process of achieving this milestone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) through the report entitled “Global report on neglected tropical diseases 2023” have urged countries to prioritize investments to sustain progress made so far because as of December 2022, 47 countries had eliminated at least one of the diseases.

Among the African countries that have eliminated at least one of the diseases include: Kenya, Morocco, the Gambia, Ghana, and Togo.

Togo has eradicated four diseases within 11 years namely: dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) in 2011, elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis) in 2017, human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) in 2020 and trachoma in May 2022.

The report notes that the number of people requiring NTD interventions fell by 80 million between 2020 and 2021, and eight countries were certified or validated as having eliminated one NTD in 2022 alone.

Although as many as 179 countries and territories reported at least one case of NTDs in 2021, 16 countries accounted for 80% of the global NTD burden. Around 1.65 billion people were estimated to require treatment for at least one NTD, globally.

WHO states that NTDs continue to disproportionately affect the poorest members of the global community, primarily in areas where water safety, sanitation and access to health care are inadequate.

“Around the world, millions of people have been liberated from the burden of neglected tropical diseases, which keep people trapped in cycles of poverty and stigma,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in a statement.

“But as this progress report shows, we still have a lot of work to do. The good news is, we have the tools and the know-how not just to save lives and prevent suffering, but to free entire communities and countries of these diseases. It’s time to act now, act together, and invest in NTDs.”

The new report emphasizes greater efforts and investments required to reverse delays and accelerate progress towards the NTD road map targets by 2030.

Promoting country ownership and accountability, as well as the sustainability and predictability of financing, including more robust domestic funding, are key to achieving the NTD road map goals and enabling countries to deliver on their commitments to provide quality NTD services to affected populations.

Multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships are vital to make this happen. Last week, WHO and Gilead Sciences signed a new agreement for the donation of 304 700 vials of AmBisome (liposomal amphotericin B for injection) for the treatment of visceral leishmaniasis in countries most impacted by the disease, extending their previous agreement to 2025. The new three-year collaboration is estimated at US$ 11.3 million and also makes provision for financial support to WHO.

In a bid to mobilize funds for the fight against NTDs in Africa, countries through the Kigali Declaration on NTDs have garnered 61 signatories since its launch in June, mobilizing over $1.6 billion for NTDs and over 19 billion tablets/units of medicine.

Thomas Breuer, Chief Global Health Officer GSK, announced a donation of 100 million doses for soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) per year from 2026 to 2030 alongside an ongoing commitment to donate medicines until Lymphatic Filariasis is eliminated as a public health problem everywhere.

In addition, Iñigo Lasa, Director General, Anesvad Foundation, has also announced that the organization has signed the Kigali Declaration on NTDs to mobilise 34m€ until 2026 to reduce the burden of skin-NTDs in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This adds to the $114.5 million appropriated by the United States government for the fiscal year 2023 to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help control and eliminate five of the most burdensome NTDs

“We are thrilled to see the incredible progress fighting NTDs buoyed by new commitments from our partners. NTDs have a devastating impact on the lives of affected individuals and communities, and it is crucial that we increase resources and action to control and eliminate these diseases,” said Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Executive Director of Uniting to Combat NTDs.

WHO urges more partners and donors to come forward and fill existing gaps that hinder the full-scale implementation of NTD activities at global and local levels.

On World NTD Day under the theme “Act now. Act together. Invest in neglected tropical diseases”, WHO is calling on everybody, including leaders and communities, to confront the inequalities that drive NTDs and to make bold, sustainable investments to free the world’s most vulnerable communities affected by NTDs from a vicious cycle of disease and poverty.