Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are preventable infectious diseases that kill 534,000 people annually. Worldwide, over 1 billion people, including 500 million children, remain at risk. Impoverished communities are disproportionally targeted; perpetuating a cycle of marginalization and stunted economic growth. The most rampant NTDs are Trachoma, Onchocerciasis, Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis, and Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis. However, these five diseases can be treated easily with Preventative Chemotherapy (PC). The treatment only costs $1 per person, and the implementation of mass drug administration (MDA) has cured millions. The African Region alone contains 40% of the population suffering from NTDs, as 37 countries are endemic for at least three and 36 are endemic for all five.

In the Geneva Conference in May 2016, WHO and AFRO launched ESPEN, a five-year project designed to accelerate the control of all five PC- NTDs in the African Region.

ESPEN is a platform of support hosted and managed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) dedicated to reducing the burden of the five most prevalent neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) on the African continent. ESPEN, which will run from 2016 to 2020, will provide technical and fundraising support to endemic countries to help fight soil-transmitted helminths, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis and trachoma. 

ESPEN will build on the success and lessons of WHO’s most recent NTD control partnership, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), which was highly effective at reducing the burden of this disease on the continent. Ultimately, ESPEN aims to bolster national programs’ capacity to eliminate onchocerciasis and other preventable and treatable NTDs, making use of the tools at our disposal and improving the quality of life of the hundreds of millions of affected individuals. 

ESPENs objectives for 2020:

  1. Eliminate Onchocerciasis in selected countries in Africa.

  2. Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis as a public health problem.

  3. Reach 75% coverage of STH treatment in all endemic countries.

  4. Eliminate Schistosomiasis from some countries in Africa.

  5. Eliminate trachoma as a public health problem.

A Global Health Best-Buy

ESPEN seeks to reduce the enormous toll of NTDs on Africa’s economic productivity. Reducing the burden of NTDs is an essential part of creating a healthy and prosperous future for Africa:

  • Generate an estimated $565 billion in productivity gains globally by 2030.

  • Produce up to $184 in improved economic productivity for every $1 invested.

  • Recover an estimated 600 million disability-adjusted life-years globally between 2011 and 2030.
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Mass Drug Administration: A Game-changing Treatment

ESPEN is committed to helping all countries in the region reach their goals for NTD control, elimination and eradication.  Mass drug administration (MDA) involves reaching entire at-risk communities annually with safe and effective drugs to treat and prevent NTDs.  Since 2000, a total of more than 5.5 billion doses of medicine have been delivered, providing 3.5 billion treatments to 1 billion people.  Since 2013, 493.5 million people have been treated with MDA.  In 2015 alone, pharmaceutical companies donated 1.5 billion treatments for NTDs globally. The scale-up of MDA across the continent has been a remarkable achievement. Of those that need preventive chemotherapy, 43.3% are receiving treatment – an increase from 35.5% in 2008. This is strong progress, but increased access to treatment is needed to finish the job and achieve control and elimination targets. 

With nearly one in six people worldwide requiring treatment for at least one NTD, ESPEN will strengthen MDA in Africa by ensuring endemic countries have the right tools, technical expertise, and resources available. 

ESPEN cannot accomplish these goals without an increase in resources, coverage and communication to improve infrastructure. Speak Up Africa’s advocacy model aims to ensure that NTD control remains as priority on the global development agenda. Cultural differences and economic disparity present obstacles that impede the expansion of treatment, but by sustaining funding and catalyzing supplementary support the burden of NTDs can be ameliorated in even the most rural areas. Advocacy and multi-sectorial communication is crucial to accomplishing 2020 goals and eradicating NTDs in our lifetime.


For more information on our NTD work or media inquires, please contact Roxanne O'Connell at