Neglected tropical diseases affect more than a billion people around the world and can cause severe and lifelong impairment.
Yet they can be prevented, treated and, in many cases, eliminated.
The recipe to eliminate neglected tropical diseases brings together a variety of ingredients: the communities, partners, health workers, donors and governments who are needed to banish NTDs.
When all of these are combined, we can create a society free from the burden of NTDs where communities can thrive.
Follow our recipe below to learn how together we can beat NTDs.
The most effective way to eliminate most NTDs is by distributing preventative medicine to people at risk. We know it takes a global village to eliminate a disease, and thanks to partners, donors and pharmaceutical companies who donate treatments to fight NTDs, we are able to reach those most at risk.
By putting local communities at the centre of these efforts, we can ensure medication reaches the right people, and that those people feel comfortable accepting treatment.
NTD programmes should be supported by high-quality research. This can help organisations to find new solutions and add to global knowledge about eliminating NTDs.
Global research is being carried out in areas including medication, vector control, data collection and use, and how to include remote populations in treatment programmes.
To beat NTDs we must work in partnership, and one key example is the collaboration between the NTD sector and the water, sanitation and health (WASH) sector. Many NTDs spread more easily in areas where there isn’t enough access to water and sanitation, so improving WASH infrastructure can have a big impact in the fight against disease. By combining data from these sectors, governments and partners can learn where investment is needed.
Many WASH initiatives are underpinned by social behaviour change, which aims to improve people’s health by influencing their knowledge, attitudes and social norms. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for the WASH approach, as customs and practices are culturally unique so the method needs to be tailored to each area.
Most countries have a national health information system that acts as a central hub for data about health services. However, data from NTD programmes is not always included, meaning the programmes are less visible and may miss out on government funding.
To eliminate these diseases, governments need to make sure they are collecting data about treatment programmes and the prevalence of disease, and that they have the resources and processes in place to act on the data.
This step, which everyone is aiming for, represents a massive achievement for governments and their partners. However, this is not the end: countries will need to maintain the structures for carrying out surveillance surveys to ensure that the disease does not resurface. Governments will also need to continue investing in health infrastructure and staff training to make sure that when people do catch NTDs, the health system is able to treat them.
Sightsavers has supported both Ghana and The Gambia in their efforts to eliminate trachoma. Balla Musa Joof, who was Sightsavers’ country director for The Gambia during the trachoma elimination programme, said: “After decades of hard work, our children can grow up without fear of this disease, and our government can direct resources toward tackling other health issues.”