30 January 2022
This milestone was achieved last May, during the 74th World Health Assembly. But why is this so important? Because of the terminology, these diseases are “neglected” because they are, or were, almost absent from the global health agenda, receive little funding, only 0.6% of global health funding goes to controlling NTDs, and are associated with stigma and social exclusion.
Being “neglected”, these diseases lack visibility in the public eye and most importantly, in the communities they affect the most. But tremendous progress is being made and African countries, supported by the Regional Bureau of the World Health Organization’s Expanded Special Project for the Elimination of NTDs (ESPEN), are working tirelessly to beat NTDs: in March 2021, Côte d’Ivoire successfully eliminated human African trypanosomiasis, also known as “sleeping sickness”, as a public health problem, becoming the second African country after Togo to be validated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and in the last days of 2021, Niger was declared the first African country to ever eliminate onchocerciasis, also called as river blindness.
The adage “In strength there is unity”, perfectly describes the fight against NTDs and the birth of the No to NTDs movement. Launched on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Niger in 2019 and endorsed by high-level decision makers and leaders such as His Excellency Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, former President of the Republic of Niger, the « No to NTDs » movement is part of an inclusive advocacy campaign aimed at increasing awareness, prioritization and national commitment to accelerate the control and elimination of NTDs in Africa. Now led by national NTD programmes and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) across West Africa, this movement places the fight against NTDs in the minds and actions of African communities.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of 757 million people received NTD treatment in 2020. This landmark highlights the leadership and active involvement that we are witnessing at every level—from national health agencies to local governments to community organizations—and across public and private sectors. Country governments are prioritizing the elimination of NTDs, ensuring long-term management and sustainability of NTD programs that align with national health strategies.”Yacine Djibo, Executive Director of Speak Up Africa.
Still in the spirit of unity and regional cooperation, the “March to Kigali” campaign was launched in April 2021, by a group of like-minded CSOs from Francophone and Anglophone African nations to call for the integration of malaria and NTD programs, with a particular focus on strengthening data and surveillance systems to improve timely deployment of malaria and NTD interventions and on multisectoral collaboration. It builds on the existing partnerships and platforms of the « No to NTDs » and « Zero Malaria Starts with Me » campaigns and aims to secure commitments from national and sub-national stakeholders to end these epidemics by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To date, more than 150 civil society and community-based organizations, media and individuals across the sub-region have signed the call to action. To mark World NTD Day, close to 400 people symbolically marched to Kigali this week-end in the streets of Parakou and Dakar to raise awareness on NTDs and demand more prioritization and funding to put end to these diseases.
“Ten years ago, the burgeoning NTD world came together and signed the London Declaration on NTD. Today, we are proud to be part of this continental “March to Kigali” movement and as CSOs and to endorse the Kigali Declaration, we can see the growing ownership of the fight against NTDs and malaria in our African countries and amongst our youths, communities and decision makers. Together, we are making great strides and we are enthusiastic, 100% committed and energized to reach the last mile and leave no one behind.”Dr. Odry Fifonsi Agbessi , President of VIA-ME in Benin.
Unprecedented progress has been achieved in this fight and 43 countries worldwide have eliminated at least one NTD. To mark these collaborative and impressive efforts from civil society organizations, decision-makers and donors, partners around the world are lighting up, in orange and purple, monuments in the spirit of unity. In Benin “Place Tabera” was lit up on the 29th of January in Parakou while in Niger, the “No to NTDs” Multisectoral Coalition, lit up the “Place of Concertation” in Niamey.