We know all too well that people living in poverty today are disadvantaged in multiple ways, from a lack of access to health care and education to inadequate housing and poor sanitation: the list goes on and the experience of poverty is inherently complex.
However, during the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) discussions it has been agreed that tackling poverty from an income perspective alone will not be enough.
Underlying the recently adopted SDGs is an explicit focus on global equity and an understanding of poverty that recognises its multiple forms and dimensions. It is this focus that has secured support for the new framework.
This week there was exciting news for the neglected topical disease (NTD) community, when a proposed NTD indicator was supported by the UK, Colombia and Mexico to be included in the SDG monitoring framework by the UN’s Inter-agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs).
NTDs are diseases inherently associated with chronic poverty and inequality. Now through the inclusion of an NTD indicator within health goal indicators, headway in controlling and eliminating these diseases will be measured as part of that progress.
The indicator itself – ‘number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases’ – was initially proposed by WHO and endorsed by the NTD community. Its inclusion into the SDG monitoring framework represents the strongest recognition to date, by the international community, that measuring efforts to tackle NTDs is intrinsic to measuring progress in addressing poverty and inequity. For countries with populations at risk of NTDs this step forward is hugely important.
With the development of national masterplans for NTDs, countries have demonstrated unprecedented commitment to scale up access to quality services for NTD treatment for communities at risk.
At the World Health Assembly this year, 26 countries signed their support of the Addis declaration, highlighting their strong political ownership and leadership to ensuring their NTD programmes are successful in meeting 2020 targets.
The event was hosted by the Ministry of Health, Ethiopia. The ministers described their own experiences in delivering national NTD control and elimination programmes – promoting peer-to-peer learning. Fast forward six months and we can clearly see that an NTD indicator will support tracking of global progress and support leadership of countries affected by NTDs.
As a growing number of governments develop progress in their national programmes to tackle NTDs, improved mapping through programmes such as the Global Trachoma Mapping Project are supporting countries to better target their resources and combat these diseases of poverty more efficiently and effectively.
So what’s next? There certainly isn’t time to stand still: following on from the Bangkok meeting this week, there will be a three-day open, online consultation for inputs on SDG indicators (including the NTD indicator).
The consultation will be an important opportunity for the NTD partners across the community to reaffirm their support for the indicator and highlight its importance in ensuring meaningful monitoring of the SDG framework. Sightsavers will certainly continue to endorse the indicator and its inclusion. This will likely be one of the last opportunities we have between now and March (when the indicators are finally agreed) to have our say – so it’s vital that we keep up the pressure to ensure the indicator remains included.
The SDG indicators are a vital monitoring tool, but they are also much more than that; they will form the bedrock of guidance for governments, institutions and civil society in ensuring no one is left behind in the implementation of the new framework.
By Helen Hamilton, Policy Adviser at Sightsavers.