This article was originally published on Politics Home.
A strong commitment at the G7 Summit will provide the catalyst to defeat these diseases of poverty, says Baroness Hayman.
When the G7 leaders meet in Germany this week there is a topic on the agenda, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), that will be unlikely to receive the media attention that security or the global economy does. However, for the 1.4 billion people that they affect around the world, NTDs are of the utmost importance.
There are 17 NTDs, which, as the name suggests, have been largely neglected by donors, researchers and the pharma industry over the decades. Part of the reason for their neglect is that NTDs are diseases of poverty, which disproportionately affect poor and powerless people in remote and rural parts of the developing world. Furthermore while they cause disabilities, deformities, social stigma and huge physical suffering, NTD mortality rates are relatively low. Consequently, donors have focused investment on diseases such as malaria and HIV which account for a large number of deaths.
NTDs trap the rural poor in a cycle of poverty, causing disabilities and suffering that hinders their ability to earn a living and improve their circumstances. With the impressive progress made in tackling diseases such as malaria, now is the time for the international community to increase investment in combatting NTDs. If the Sustainable Development Goals are to be successful in defeating poverty, we must tackle these diseases that trap the poor in the poverty cycle.
The WHO Roadmap for NTDshas provided the framework, and leading donor Governments, endemic countries, multilateral donors and pharmaceutical companies came together in 2012 in London to commit to eradicating 10 NTDs by 2020. Since then international funding has increased, led to a large extent by the UK Government. This has resulted in over 70 endemic countries introducing plans to tackle NTDs, and interventions are being scaled up across the globe. We have made significant progress already. In 15 years we have reduced the number of new cases of human African trypanosomiasis by 90%, and 27 countries have achieved the Roadmap’s target of 75% treatment coverage of school-age children for soil-transmitted helminthiases.
However, more needs to be done if we are to meet the ambitious 2020 targets. Treating NTDs is one of the most cost-effective interventions in global health, with a global average cost per treatment of $0.30. Despite this, we still face an estimated $200 million annual shortfall in funding. The UK and USA are already substantial supporters, investing £245 million and $452.5 million over the last four years respectively, but we need other members of the G7 to match these commitments. We also need to invest in building robust health systems in the developing world that can provide coverage for all as well as withstand sudden disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
I therefore urge the UK will use its role and record in NTD control to encourage the other G7 states to make a bold commitment to end these pervasive and debilitating diseases. Doing so would contribute significantly to achieving the poverty and health-related SDGs, and alleviate the suffering of millions of poor people in the developing world.
Keywords: Advocacy and policy