03 December 2018
Leading philanthropists as well as African and European governments have announced more than US$150m to tackle neglected tropical diseases largely unknown in western countries, but which affect 1.5 billion people – or one in five on the planet. The over $150m funding will unlock a total aid package worth many, many more times that sum thanks to the the free donation of medicines from pharmaceutical companies.
The announcements to fund the prevention and treatment of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) were made at a star-studded festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, co-hosted by the Government of South Africa, the House of Mandela, Motsepe Foundation, and the activist network Global Citizen. The event, called Mandela100 to honour Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon, in what is the centenary year of his birth, featured international artistes including Femi Kuti, Sho Madjozi, Beyonce, Jay Z and Ed Sheeran, amongst others. As with other Global Citizen events it was a unique mixture of fantastic music, speeches by politicians and messages about how to solve some of the problems of the world.
The festival was hosted by South African comedian and activist Trevor Noah.
A total of over US$150m in funding for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) was announced at the concert, where total commitments worth over $7 billion dollars to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals were also announced. $105 million came from: a group of funders from the Audacious Project who announced their commitment through global entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. The Audacious Project, hosted by TED, brings together philanthropists committed to turn transformative ideas into action. The commitments were made by: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the government of Mozambique; the governments of Belgium and Botswana; and a consortium of private donors associated with the philanthropic venture the END Fund.
NTDs such as blinding trachoma, river blindness and intestinal worms overwhelmingly affect the poorest and most marginalized people living in areas without running water or adequate sanitation. They stop children going to school and can rob adults of their most productive years of life. Great progress has been made in efforts against the diseases. Thanks to treatment, half a billion people no longer need interventions for NTDs. But one and a half billion are still in need of help.
Thanks to pharmaceutical companies donating medicines for NTDs for free, the over $150m pledged at the Festival will unlock a total aid package worth many, many times this figure. For every aid dollar invested in the distribution of medicines, $26 worth of donated drugs will be leveraged, making this the largest public/ private partnership in global health. The money announced at the festival will treat and protect some 300m people from the effects of these diseases based on an average cost of delivering the necessary drugs of 50 US Cents per treatment.
Community volunteer leads in festival
The part of the festival during which financial announcements for NTDs were made was opened by a community health volunteer from western Zambia, Precious Mukelabai. She is one of the thousands of dedicated community health volunteers around the world who work tirelessly connecting people with services.
Precious Mukelabai and her colleagues are an essential and critical component of fighting NTDs. Precious spoke movingly at the festival about her aunt who she recently helped connect with a surgeon who successfully operated on her eyes to prevent blindness.
The aunt had suffered from blinding trachoma, an NTD and the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world, for many years:
“Now my auntie has her smile again”, said Precious Mukelabai.
Details of commitments
Of the total announced at the festival, over $105m will be used to tackle blinding trachoma and infant mortality. Blinding trachoma is an extremely painful disease that causes eyelashes to turn inwards, scratching the eye with every blink. It is mainly prevalent in areas without clean running water or proper sanitation. If left untreated it can lead to irreversible blindness.
This funding to fight blinding trachoma was announced at the festival by the global entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson on behalf of a group of funders including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, The ELMA Foundation (UK), UK Aid and Virgin Unite.
The money will be used by the UK-based charity Sightsavers and a network of partners to support at least ten African countries in eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health problem and speed up progress against the disease in several other African nations.
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder, said: “We are thrilled to be working with our fellow Audacious Project partners, Sightsavers and brilliant organisations on the frontlines to collectively end the horrible plight of trachoma. We are also hoping that this will inspire other partners to join us to end trachoma and other neglected tropical diseases and to come together to collaborate at scale to tackle other unacceptable issues like this that are destroying people’s lives and slowing down economic growth opportunities that will lift people out of poverty.”
Dr Caroline Harper, Chief Executive of Sightsavers, said: “It is within our grasp to stop trachoma in its tracks. We are getting closer to the finish line – but the job is not yet done. This persistent disease traps people in lives of intense pain and poverty. But it is treatable and preventable’.
The festival in Johannesburg included several interventions from politicians, including a short speech between musical items from the Prime Minister of Mozambique, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário. He announced a significant contribution from the government in Maputo for the fight against several NTDs.
Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário said: “I am pleased to announce $6m to help the fight against river blindness, intestinal worms and elephantiasis. Together we can work to improve the health of everyone on our continent.”
A group of private sector philanthropists from countries around the world, — including those endemic for NTDs like Zimbabwe and Nigeria — announced $15.5m to the total pledged at the festival. This money will allow the private philanthropic initiative, the END Fund, to continue its work investing in the fight against neglected tropical diseases.
Nigerian businessman Tope Lawani, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Helios Investment Partners, and END Fund International Board member said: « A pledge of $15.5 million to combat neglected tropical diseases through the END Fund shows the private sector’s confidence in, and commitment to, the notion that beating these diseases is a cost-effective way to boost people’s health, education, and prosperity. As a Nigerian who is personally committed to this cause, I look forward to my fellow Africans joining me in this effort, which stands to help further unlock our continent’s potential. »
‘Matching funds’ double commitments
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been at the forefront of the fight against neglected tropical diseases for many years, announced a contribution of $17m to the World Health Organization in Africa over five years to fight the five most common neglected diseases on the African continent.
Of this, $17m, $11m is reserved for what the aid community calls ‘match funding’. This means the Gates foundation will release the money if it is ‘matched’ (doubled) by another donor.
$5m has already been ‘matched’ by the government of Belgium. $6m is available for matching by other donors.
This money will help deliver medicines donated for free by pharmaceutical partners through support for a World Health Organization department called the Expanded Special Project for the Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN). This is a special project under the leadership of the World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa (WHO AFRO), Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
The Chief Strategy Officer and President of the Gates Foundation, Mark Suzman, said: “When we invest in eliminating neglected tropical diseases, we help more children stay inschool and more adults earn a decent living in the world’s poorest communities. That’s why we have pledged $17m to the World Health Organisation to beat these diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. We’re grateful to the government and people of Belgium for matching this pledge with a generous commitment of $5m. Together, this will allow the delivery of donated medicines worth almost $300m to more than 20m people in need”.
The Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo, said: “To step up the fight against neglected tropical diseases and break the vicious circle of poverty-disease-poverty, Belgium pledges $5m to ESPEN, an amount that will be matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” “For every dollar invested, two treatments are delivered. This will improve the lives of 20 million people in Africa, in particular the lives of women, adolescent girls and children in the poorest and most marginalized communities.”
Welcoming the announcements to ESPEN and to the Africa programme more broadly, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said: « 600 million people are at risk of neglected tropical diseases in Africa. ESPEN is working with Ministries of Health and their partners to accelerate the elimination of NTDs and free the continent from this scourge. To achieve our goal, we’ll need to mobilize all our strengths from both public & private institutions. I am delighted to see the Governments of Botswana, Belgium, and Mozambique, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation lead by example and support the efforts of tireless health workers and partners across Africa. Only together can we achieve universal health coverage and change the lives of millions of people around the continent.”.
Finally, it was announced at the festival that the government of Botswana would prioritize the prevention and treatment of neglected tropical diseases and provide the domestic resources required to fully fund its NTD programme and reach elimination goals. This announcement was not specified in dollar terms but would be a significant sum.
The Vice President of Botswana, Slumber Tsogwane, said in Johannesburg: »In honor of Nelson Mandela I pledge on behalf of the government of Botswana to prioritize the prevention and treatment of all neglected tropical diseases and to provide the domestic resources necessary for their elimination. In line with this commitment, Botswana has begun the treatment of over 230,000 children in need of treatment for those diseases”.