Neglected tropical diseases

Sixty-third Regional Committee for Africa calls for robust political commitment and resource mobilization to fight neglected tropical diseases

Delegates from 47 Member States adopt ambitious plan and propose linking disease control to poverty- reduction strategies

9 September 2013 | Geneva/Brazzaville

The 63rd session of the Regional Committee for Africa has adopted a regional strategy and strategic plan aimed at accelerating the fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The Regional strategy on neglected tropical diseases in the WHO African Region 2014–2020 is “the most ambitious and comprehensive” document, with specific targets for elimination and eradication by 2020.

"The targets include the eradication of dracunculiasis and yaws; sustained elimination of leprosy; regional elimination of lymphatic filariasis and blinding trachoma; elimination of onchocerciasis and bilharzia in the majority of countries,” said Dr Francis Kasolo, Director of the Disease Prevention and Control Cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa. “We are also working to scale up our fight against Buruli ulcer, intestinal worms, sleeping sickness, rabies and the Leishmaniases”.

The regional strategy, adapted from WHO’s roadmap Accelerating work to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases: a roadmap for implementation published in January 2012 and World Health Assembly resolution WHA66.12 on all 17 NTDs, recommends four main measures to achieve the targets by 2020. These include:

  • scaling up access to interventions and strengthening the capacity of health systems;
  • enhancing planning for and ensuring resource mobilization and financial sustainability of national NTD programmes;
  • strengthening advocacy, communication, coordination and national ownership; and
  • enhancing monitoring and evaluation, surveillance and research.

The African Region has a disproportionately high burden of NTDs and all 47 countries are endemic for many of these diseases. Although many have made encouraging progress, delegates made recommendations that include the creation of dedicated budget lines and to link disease control programmes with country poverty reduction strategies.

Among other issues, delegates proposed enhancement of sub-regional and cross border surveillance and other interventions to tackle NTDs. Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease) is on the verge of eradication with South Sudan (the newest member to the region, which currently reports the highest number of cases) pledging to end transmission in the country by the end of 2014.

Delegates recommended continued support to countries on mapping and disease burden assessments, especially for schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, lymphatic filariasis, yaws and the Leishmaniases. They also called on countries to complete implementation of country master plans for NTDs; inclusion of rabies, dengue and chikungunya control; prioritization of research; and better coordination and integration with interventions for other diseases such as HIV and malaria.

In his opening address on 2 September 2013, the Regional Director for Africa Dr Luis Gomes Sambo said the region has made tremendous progress against some diseases, which until recently were major causes of morbidity. These included a reduction in the burden of human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), gains made in the control of onchocerciasis, elimination of leprosy, significant reductions in the number of reported poliomyelitis cases and the near-eradication of dracunculiasis.

"This progress is the fruit of health service reorientation in Africa that prioritized basic health care," said Dr Sambo.

In her speech, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan referred to Africa’s remarkable progress in human development, steep declines in HIV infections, malaria and child mortality, and commended the continent’s rate of primary-school completion, which she said is the fastest in the world.

Dr Chan said that equitable access to health care was one of the best ways to ensure that the benefits of economic growth were evenly distributed, and that well-managed health systems, with fair access to services, promote social cohesion and stability.

She called on the delegates to persuade their governments to introduce public spending policies that make equity a clear objective and to move their health systems towards universal coverage with a focus on high-quality care and social protection for all.

The 63rd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa took place from 2 to 6 September 2013 in Brazzaville, the capital of the Congo.