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Africa urged to prioritise fight against neglected tropical diseases

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By Omar Bah

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German leading provider of international cooperation services, last week hosted a panel discussion on integrated approaches to NTDs focusing on policy and practice to discuss the effects of neglected tropical deceases in Africa at the CPHIA International Conference in Lusaka, Zambia.

The panel of four health experts drawn from different countries and organisations across the world discussed intensively the implications of NTDs in African societies. They also encouraged African countries to prioritise fighting against neglected tropical diseases through fighting poverty and providing equal healthcare provisions.

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More than a billion people are affected by neglected tropical diseases globally. Africa accounts for nearly 40% (400 million people) of the global burden. These diseases can be devastating, including causing severe pain, disabilities and deformities, malnutrition, stunted growth, and cognitive impairment.

NTDs are a different group of diseases with distinct characteristics that thrive mainly among the poorest populations. There are 17 NTDs prioritised by the WHO, which are endemic in 149 countries and affect more than 1.4 billion people, costing developing economies billions of dollars every year. While many can be treated cost-effectively, they have been largely ignored on the global health policy agenda until recently. In May 2013, the 66th World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA66.12, which calls for intensified, integrated measures and planned investments to improve the health and social well-being of affected populations. WHO is working with member states to ensure the implementation of WHA66.

The Gambia government contributes only 1 percent of the country’s budget to the fight against NTDs.

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However, health stakeholders gathered at the 3rd International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) in Lusaka, Zambia, have emphasised the need for the continent to be the architect of its own destiny when it comes to healthcare.

In a Standard exclusive shortly after finishing his panel discussion, the head of the National Leprosy Programme in Ghana, Dr Benedict Quao, said NTDs are problems everywhere because they affect people with conditions associated with poverty.

“NTDs don’t kill, but they maim, cause disability, and render individuals unable to do their work. They perpetuate the cycle of poverty, and if we want to really eradicate poverty, we most use NTDs as an index to be able to reach the people who need interventions,” he said.

He said to ensure well-coordinated interventions against NTDs, stakeholders must target school-going children and involve schools and parents in the planning of programs.

He said the continent needs a holistic approach to fighting against NTDs.

“Globally, NTDs are recognised to have affect mainly people in deprive areas who do not receive the required attention in the global health space. So, the idea is to come under one umbrella to mobilise the needed resources and address the poverty rates among NTD communities,” he said.

He said African countries are doing well in terms of addressing these issues, but it may not be enough.

He said the side event also focused on identifying what is going on in countries at the regional level and with regards to WHO regarding integration based on the One Health concept.

“When you talk about One Health, you are not just looking at human health but also animals, the ecosystem, and everything more or less. So, the session focuses on education, donor financing, government financing, and how we can bring these things together to ensure that we are not working in isolation anymore but working across deceases and taking advantage of opportunities to leverage on other deceases to reach patients wherever they are so that at the end of the day, efficiency is maximised,” he said.

In all this, Dr Benedict added, collaboration among countries, donors, and all stakeholders is crucial.

“We have different contexts and similarities, so we will learn from each other, and there are various platforms on which our countries can learn. This meeting, which attracted public health experts from all over the African region, has generated a lot of ideas. We should now try to implement them in our various countries,” he added.

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