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How can we leave no one behind in health?

Helen Hamilton, October 2015
Close up of a woman smiling sitting outside.

“To make the most of the SDGs, we need to identify ways in which the NTD community can contribute”

Last month the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were unanimously agreed at the UN in New York by 193 member states. The new international agenda that we’ve been working towards is now set.

For the first time, neglected tropical diseases are explicitly included in a global development framework meaning the world has recognised a failure to tackle NTDs risks undermining global efforts to eradicate poverty.

NTDs are explicitly referenced in Target 3.3 in the SDGs which calls on countries to “By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.”

Prompted by the discussions in New York, at this year’s NNN conference in Abu Dhabi, the NTD community engaged in a range of technical sessions aimed at tackling key policy and programmatic opportunities, including the proposed SDG indicator for NTDs. The NTD community has united behind an NTD target and indicator that by definition, means that nobody should be left behind. The proposed indicator, ‘number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases’, is strongly endorsed across the NTD community.

However, to truly make the most of the opportunity afforded by the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to look at other aspects of global health and development and identify clear ways in which the NTD community can contribute; supporting the progressive attainment of Universal Health Coverage is one example.

Unsurprisingly tackling inequalities is a central objective of the new health agenda within the SDGs, through a commitment to Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and agreement that throughout the framework “no target should be considered met unless met for all”.

By promoting NTDs as a tracer for UHC alongside a dedicated NTD indicator, we can ensure that we are supporting the two elements of the SDGs that are complimentary, yet fundamental to the achievement of any NTD targets.

The NTD community has a vital contribution to make to improving health outcomes; from preventive services to protect communities at risk of NTD infection to rehabilitative and mental health services to support people affected by NTDs with the longer term consequences.  In this respect, the inclusion and achievement of a UHC target is critical to the achievement of any NTD targets, including a dedicated NTD indicator, as it underpins health outcomes across the board and is fundamentally about improving equity – the same core goal as efforts to tackle NTDs.

The health sector supports a UHC goal to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to health. For this to be true for NTDs we must continue to support efforts to improve service coverage and quality alongside financial protection. Achieving UHC in this way will deliver considerable health benefits to countries and is likely prove successful in strengthening health systems to be more resilient against infectious diseases, so that we genuinely achieve a point where no one is left behind.

At the end of this month, the second meeting of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) in Bangkok will focus on reviewing the list of possible global indicators, including the proposed NTD indicator and the UHC indicator.

We know that it’s only with measurable indicators tracking real change that we’ll make progress, so let’s hope the IAEG discussions reflect this. Will we see the inclusion of an NTD indicator alongside other health indicators including those for UHC? I don’t know. But if we do it’ll take us one step closer to achieving our goals.

Update, 28 October: ‘Number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases’ has now been confirmed as an indicator for the global health goal, thanks to support from the UK, Columbia and Mexico – fantastic news!

By Helen Hamilton, Policy Adviser at Sightsavers

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