WHO’s new programme to eliminate neglected tropical diseases in Africa
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa has launched a new partnership to help African countries reduce the burden of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
The Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN) will provide national NTD programmes across the continent with technical and fundraising support. It hopes to help them control and eliminate the five NTDs with the greatest burden on the continent, which collectively affect millions of people annually. ESPEN will focus on five diseases: onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths and trachoma.
NTDs are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries and affect more than one billion people, costing developing economies billions of dollars every year. They mainly affect populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals and livestock.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said, “We’re excited to launch ESPEN to scale up the work against these terrible diseases. We know what needs to be done to beat NTDs; ESPEN will make sure national NTD programmes have the data, expertise and financial resources they need to accelerate the fight against these diseases.”
Forty per cent of the global burden of NTDs is in Africa, stated WHO. The cycles of these diseases destroy lives, prevent children from going to school, and keep communities in cycles of poverty, the health body said in a press note. A study by Erasmus University projects that reaching WHO’s 2020 goals for these diseases would generate an estimated US $565 billion in productivity gains by 2030.
ESPEN will run from 2016 to 2020, and is designed to continue momentum toward the control and elimination targets established by the World Health Organization and endorsed in the London Declaration on NTDs in January 2012. In 2014, two dozen African countries committed to strengthen their commitment to NTDs under the Addis Ababa Commitment on NTDs.
Isaac Folorunsho Adewole, federal minister of health, Nigeria, said, “To beat NTDs, we need the right tools and data to help us get treatments to the people who need them. This special project will help governments across Africa provide a healthier future for our people.” The launch of ESPEN took place at an event on the side lines of the 69th Annual World Health Assembly in Geneva.