Ascend: fighting disease in West and Central Africa

Sightsavers’ largest multiple neglected tropical disease (NTD) programme to date has closed early. Although great progress has been made in the fight to eliminate NTDs, the job is not done. Discover how you can play your part.

A health worker takes notes during a mass drug administration campaign in Nigeria.

The Ascend West and Central Africa programme, which launched in 2019, closed on 31 August 2021.

The UK government’s unexpected decision to cut foreign aid means the programme ended eight months sooner than planned, which could have a devastating impact on the people it promised to support.

The cuts mean that more than 100 million people who would normally be reached by this programme could be affected. There are more than 76 million treatments at risk of not reaching those who need them, hundreds of thousands of people will no longer be identified for life-changing surgery, and training and in-country capacity building has come to a halt.

The programme also aimed to help several countries reach elimination thresholds and contribute to a major leap forward in global elimination efforts, but now these targets are at risk. It takes a huge number of people, organisations and processes to support governments to eliminate an NTD. If any one part of this complex interaction fails, individuals, families and communities feel the harsh impact.

However, all is not lost.  Funders are stepping up to potentially support some of this work.  But the job is far from over.

Every person has a part to play in eliminating these diseases, and to make certain we don’t let them become ‘neglected’ once again. Together we can enhance the health, quality of life and future wellbeing of people affected by these conditions. Now it’s time to #PlayYourPart.

School children in a queue have their information taken by a man

About the UK’s foreign aid cuts

The UK’s foreign aid budget is being cut by £4 billion, which includes ending funding for neglected tropical disease programmes such as Ascend.

Read the story

Ascend has already helped millions of people

As shocked and saddened as we are at the UK government’s decision, we’re also incredibly proud of how this outstanding programme directly supported governments to improve the health and prospects of millions of people.

In our video below, meet Abdul, David, Pelagie and others who worked on this programme as they reflect on their proudest moments.

Successes to date

In just two years, the Ascend West and Central Africa programme has supported ministries of health in 12 countries.

281 million
treatments provided across 12 countries
Over 841,400
community volunteers and teachers trained
country ministries supported with COVID-19 response

Why was this work important?

  • The programme has already protected millions of people from NTDs.But more than a billion people in the world’s poorest communities are still at risk of these painful diseases.
  • We believe every person – no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they have – should be able to access health services. Sightsavers will stay true to this vision of universal health coverage. And when possible, we will work with ministries of health to support sustainable improvement.
  • It was strengthening healthcare building blocks, working side by side with ministries of health, we were supporting training, systems and equipment needed to fight NTDs. This work needs to continue in the future: without it, elimination targets are at risk of being missed.
  • The programme was committed to working with disabled people’s organisations (DPOs). It is crucial that people with disabilities are involved in programme design, delivery and evaluation, as it boosts the impact and inclusiveness of all NTD work.

Who was involved in the programme?

The Ascend consortium was made up of four leading development organisations: Sightsavers, Mott MacDonald, the SCI Foundation and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Where did the programme run?

Sightsavers and partners supported ministries of health in 12 countries under the programme: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Work was also planned in Chad but unfortunately didn’t start before the programme closed early.

A male healthcare worker stands outside wearing a colourful face mask and a white coat.

Fighting COVID-19 and NTDs

Discover how the Ascend West and Central Africa programme and its partners supported ministries to respond to COVID-19 and see some of the amazing artwork and videos created.

Read on Storymaps

Want to learn about our work on NTDs?

Neglected tropical diseases

More about Ascend

A man sits in an office wearing a face covering
Sightsavers stories

Reducing stigma in communities while fighting NTDs

Mr Alabi, the neglected tropical disease (NTD) coordinator for Kogi State, Nigeria, and his team provide NTD interventions to more than four million people annually.

Sightsavers stories

Working together to tackle NTDs in Liberia

In the first year of the programme, the Ascend West and Central Africa partners have supported health workers and volunteers to deliver mass treatment campaigns that will help tackle high rates of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Liberia.

A man stands for a portrait.
Sightsavers stories

Sani Muhammad’s story

Alhaji Sani Muhammad Dan'lya is the acting chairman of Sokoto State's chapter of the Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities. He helps to highlight the importance of disability inclusion within the Ascend West and Central Africa programme.