April 21, 2017 / 5:33 PM / 3 months ago

Progress in fighting tropical diseases but funding and conflicts pose challenges

5 Min Read

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Progress has been made in tackling diseases that blind, disable and disfigure millions of poor in tropical countries each year, but drug companies need to step up donations of medicines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.

Governments and private donors pledged more than $800 million at a meeting in Geneva this week to accelerate the fight against these illnesses, categorized by the WHO as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Below are some expert views on how to accelerate the fight against NTDs, which include diseases such as guinea worm, dengue, onchocerciasis (river blindness), trachoma and sleeping sickness.

Ellen Agler, Chief Executive, the End Fund

"Over the past five years we have seen huge progress in the fight against NTDs, with over a billion doses of drugs given to people at risk in 2015 alone. This is incredible and is the result of a unique partnership between the private, public and third sector that mobilizes our individual resources and talents, and builds capacity where its needed, to help treat the poorest of the poor across the world.

One of the key successes we've seen is that in-country Ministry Of Health professionals have proven that they can deliver high quality and consistent NTD treatment coverage if adequately resourced. As a Fund dedicated to seeing the end of NTDs, the challenge is to mobilize greater capital to support them to achieve our 2020 goals.

Additionally, conflict poses a very real challenge for many reasons. In addition to the obvious dangers, it risks interrupting treatment to people who desperately need it, and can set back a country years in NTD control and put millions at risk of reinfection."

Charles Nelson, Chief Executive, Malaria Consortium

"We have seen impressive progress since the London Declaration on NTDs in 2012. Dracunculiasis (guinea worm) has been nearly eradicated, with just 25 cases in 2015, and progress against lymphatic filariasis has been staggering – over half a billion people were protected with preventive chemotherapy last year.

This has been achieved due to strong political will and generous financial commitments, and Malaria Consortium welcomes the recent increases to NTDs from the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – amounting to over 700 million pounds over the next five years. However, if we are to achieve the ambitious targets for 2020, we need other international donors to match these generous commitments, and for endemic countries to do more too.

Throughout the Summit, it has been encouraging to see how much the agenda is moving forward across all NTDs, including intense case management NTDs, and among them, skin related diseases. It is of course crucial that mass drug administration continues, but as we approach elimination, disease surveillance becomes increasingly important. And even after diseases are eliminated, we need to integrate treatment for those that require intense case management or ongoing care due to the chronic effects of NTDs into national health systems."

Paul Emerson, Director, International Trachoma Initiative

The scale up and progress in implementation for trachoma elimination in endemic countries has been nothing short of phenomenal. We know where the disease is, we know what to do about it and where do it. Country programs and partners have mobilized multilateral and domestic financing to ramp up antibiotic distributions, surgeries for the advanced stage of trachoma, and water and sanitation improvements where possible.

The challenge in front of us now is in reaching the most neglected populations, communities in conflict, and in closing the funding gaps.

BERNARD PECOUL, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, DNDi (DRUGS FOR NEGLECTED DISEASES INITIATIVE)

"The London Declaration five years ago undoubtedly gave a new impulse to the fight against the most neglected diseases. The fight is far from over. We are yet to see the breakthroughs that will bring newer, safer, better drugs, diagnostics or vaccines to the most neglected.

Collectively, we need to sustain our scientific, political and financial commitments, particularly on research and development, to provide neglected people with the modern health technologies needed to sustain elimination of many of these diseases."

Reporting by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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