Neglected tropical diseases

Speech delivered by
HRH Prince Abdulaziz Ahmad Al Saud, HRH Prince, Saudi Arabia

19 APRIL 2007
In the 21st century, in the less developed countries of the world, every day over a billion people suffer needlessly the terrible consequences of the neglected tropical diseases that have affected them for generations.

These populations are neglected in the sense of limited access to basic health services, basic information on how to seek care and awareness on the simple ways to prevent and early treat what later on will make their lives an ongoing sufferance.

Health care systems in these countries cannot deliver the services essential to the needy population due to the shortage of human and technical resources as well as limited finances.

These poorest among the poor spend their lives deprived of opportunities to develop and profit from all what the 21st century has to offer as these diseases leave them blind, disfigured, disabled, and eventually might lead to their death.

These conditions have a long lasting impact on children, depriving them of their childhood and limiting their access to education. Social deprivation and the decline in the health services has led to the spread of many infectious diseases such as Trachoma, which might eventually lead to incurable blindness if not treated in its early stages.

Trachoma affects the poorest and most remote rural areas of 56 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Australia and the Middle East. It is considered as one of the major causes of preventable blindness globally. An estimated 80 million individuals are affected by Trachoma, majority are children and around 10 million people are at immediate risk of losing their sight as a result of its complications, majority of them are women and living in Africa.

Since its launch in 1997, the WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Blinding Trachoma (GET 2020) combined with socioeconomic development in endemic countries produced a major effect in fighting trachoma. The estimated number of people affected by trachoma has fallen from 360 million people in 1985 to approximately 80 million people today.

Trachoma control is achievable through combined efforts at national and global levels along with the implementation of the “SAFE” strategy, as recommended by WHO. It is one of the few diseases that can be successfully eradicated. Several countries have recently been declared free of active Trachoma Such as; Oman, Morocco, Mexico and Iran. This was achieved through the continuous improvement of environmental and social conditions and health services in accordance with the “SAFE” strategy. Not forgetting the partnership with the corporate sector as evidenced by “Pfizer” who generously donates the drug needed to treat trachoma.

In this regard, I am pleased to refer to the recently approved resolution WHA 59.25 concerning prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment which requests the Director General (DG) of WHO to give priority to prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment. The resolution also requests the DG to add prevention of blindness and visual impairment to WHO's medium term strategic plan (MTSP) 2008-2013 and proposed programme budget 2008-2009; which are currently under preparation.

I therefore; urge you all and through this gathering today, to support the inclusion of Prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment to WHO's MTSP final version that will be discussed in the forthcoming 60th WHA meeting that will be take place in May of this year.

The result is not only freedom from diseases, but progress of communities and individuals through the availability and the proper delivery of health services, resulting in prosperity and peace.

In these times where we see so much disparity among human beings, the implementation of proven effective strategies for disease control, delivery of drugs generously donated by the industry to those who need them and making surgical care available to the needy are fundamental contributions to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

We shall all engage for the benefit of the forgotten and the neglected among us who need our help and resources to move from the oblivion to a way of living that spell dignity and empowerment.

We shall all unite and cooperate with the governments, the intergovernmental organizations, the civil societies and the corporate sector that believes in its social responsibility in order to maintain the momentum and achieve our goals.

We shall work vigorously engaging new partners and new stakeholders to work with us until the last community is freed from this needless sufferance.

Countries are affected as well, as all these masses of impoverished people propagate the vicious circle of poverty, hampering attempts and efforts to provide better living conditions through generalized development.

We have solutions for these diseases. There are countries that have recently eliminated some of them through a sustained political will, coordinated international partnerships and implementation of proven effective strategies.