On Tuesday, the Financial Times published a report on NTDs to coincide with the World Health Organization Summit in Geneva. Governments, pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists and non-governmental organisations, including Sightsavers, met at the summit to review progress made towards the 2012 London Declaration, which committed them to controlling, eliminating or eradicating 10 NTDs by the end of the decade.
The report quoted Sightsavers Director of NTDs Simon Bush, who highlighted the need to remain vigilant even where progress has been made against the diseases. Simon told the Financial Times: “Once you move towards elimination, communities forget the burden. We have to remind the community to remain alert and report cases of NTDs.”
David Agyemang, Sightsavers’ programme manager in Ghana, told the paper that high-level political commitment, such as that made by the Ghanaian government, is a prerequisite for success.
The report also focused on a programme in Ghana that aims to eliminate two NTDs – onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis – in which Sightsavers is playing a leading role.
Earlier in the week, Sightsavers CEO Dr Caroline Harper was interviewed by the Guardian for an article on the UK government’s announcement it would double its spending on the fight against NTDs.
Britain has pledged to spend £360 million on efforts to eliminate NTDs over the next six years, and another £88 million on research to develop drugs and diagnostics. This will provide a billion treatments.
Dr Harper welcomed the new investment and told the Guardian: “These diseases are really, really horrible – they make people’s lives a misery. With trachoma, imagine if all your eyelashes were running inwards and every blink you had was agony – that’s the kind of thing this can stop. This money is going to help us get much further towards actually getting rid of these diseases. That means these people are no longer debilitated and are able to contribute to their communities.”
Sightsavers’ Connecting the Dots programme, which provides vocational training to people with disabilities to help them support themselves, was featured on the BBC World Service on Tuesday. The ‘Outlook’ programme featured an interview with former Ugandan child soldier Simon Peter Otoyo, who was forced to fight for the Lord’s Resistance Army and was blinded when he was wounded in combat. He later managed to escape.
Using skills he acquired on the Connecting the Dots programme, he now teaches knitting at the Amor Foundation Vocational Training Institute, challenging stereotypes about visually impaired people. His teaching job enables him to financially support his family.