African heads of state have agreed to add neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) to their annual scorecard on disease progress, a move described as a “game changer”.
The commitment, agreed at the African Union Summit on 28 January, means that every year, in addition to malaria, African leaders will personally assess the progress their countries are making to tackle NTDs.
This will make them more accountable for their progress in eliminating these painful and debilitating diseases.
Sightsavers Director of NTDs Simon Bush welcomed the decision, saying: “This is a game changer. By committing to high-level data monitoring, the African Union is bringing NTDs into the mainstream for the first time. African leaders are also recognising the impact that NTDs have on thousands of communities across Africa, as well as the hard work that community-directed distributors and other community health volunteers do to combat them.”
In total, 40 per cent of the 1.5 billion people affected by NTDs worldwide live in Africa. Sightsavers works with partners, including governments, across 29 African countries to treat five NTDs – trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filiariasis, intestinal worms and schistosomiasis.
Sightsavers and partners recently celebrated delivering the one billionth treatment for NTDs. The achievement was praised by physicist Stephen Hawking, whose father Frank was one of the first people to conduct research into and develop treatment for lymphatic filariasis.
NTDs are most prevalent in developing countries and affect the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. They can cause severe and lifelong physical impairment, trapping individuals, families and whole communities in a cycle of poverty and social isolation.