Neglected tropical diseases

Speech of the President of the United Republic of Tanzania his Excellency Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete

At the Opening of the 5th Meeting of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis

Dr. Mwele Malecela, President of GAELF,
Hon. Ministers from Tanzania, Malawi and Korea;
Members of Executive Group of GAELF,
WHO Representative to Tanzania, Dr. Mohd Belhocine;
Representative of Merck and Co., Inc. and Glaxo Smith Kline;
Distinguished Delegates; Ladies and Gentlemen;

I feel honored and privileged for the invitation to officiate at the opening of the 5th Meeting of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. I would like to thank you for allowing Tanzania to be host to this important meeting. For those many of you who have traveled great distances to attend this conference, I say welcome to Tanzania, the land of Kilimanjaro, Serengeti and Zanzibar.

As Prof. Mwakyusa said, I do hope that at the end of the conference you will find some time to see a bit of our country and experience what Tanzania has to offer in terms of historic and scenic sight as well as flora and fauna. Tanzania has many game parks some of which are only stone throw away from here like the Arusha National Park, the Kilimanjaro National Park with the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro within its borders, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. For those who would like to venture further, I strongly recommend a can visit the Serengeti National Park (the 8th new wonder of the world) renowned for the wildebeest migration. Fortunately, this time of the year the unique wildlife spectacle is in the Serengeti. You can also go to the spice Island of Zanzibar, the ultimate paradise on the Indian Ocean. I assure you that you will not regret.

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;

I am very happy to note that this is the first time this meeting is being held in Sub-Saharan Africa. I thank the organization for thinking about Africa and for choosing Tanzania. Africa deserve this kind of treatment. More than one-third of people infected with lymphatic filariasis live in Africa and the social impact of the disease in our continent is immense.

As a person who comes from a country and an area that is endemic with Lymphatic Filariasis, I know how saddening and debilitating the disease can be. Sadly, the physical disabilities caused by the disease are accompanied by social stigma and economic hardship. The cycle of poverty that is perpetuated by this disease is continuous and keeps people trapped with no chance of escape. The disability caused by this disease renders those afflicted unproductive and unable to contribute to national and their individual economic progress.

Here in Africa, lymphatic filariasis exerts a heavy social burden. Often times, this gets especially severe because of the specific attributes of the disease, particularly since chronic complications are often hidden and are considered shameful. As Dr. Mohd Belhocine said, for or men, genital damage is a severe handicap leading to physical limitation and social stigmatization. For women, shame and ridicule are also associated with the disease. People affected by the swelling of limbs are considered undesirables. Marriage which could be a complimentary source of security and pride, is often a difficult matter for the affected.

It is therefore important that we appreciate the efforts being undertaken by the Global Alliance to eliminate this disease from our countries.

The progress that the Global Alliance has made over the past 10 years is phenomenal. I am told that it is the most rapidly expanding programme in the history of Public Health. I understand that the first treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa was in Mafia Island of Tanzania in 2000 and that since then over 1 billion treatments have been given in 44 countries all over the world. This is commendable and I would like to congratulate you all on this mammoth success.

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;

The past ten years has seen a rapid scale up in the distribution of the requisite drugs to the needy. It has also been a period in which we witnessed the reduction of both infection and disease in several countries. I understand that, at this meeting, Korea will be giving a statement on the elimination of the disease from their country. I have also been made aware that elimination efforts have also been successful in Egypt and, that in Zanzibar, Tanzania, the infection rate has dropped to such low levels that soon Zanzibar will be declared free of lymphatic filariasis.

What this tells us is that it is possible to eliminate this disease to a point where it is no longer a public health problem. This is backed by hard science and empirical evidence through practice. All we need to do is to ensure that these successes are maintained and replicated in other countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Whilst there is ample evidence of tremendous success being made, Africa, however, still lags behind in the fight against lymphatic filariasis. Only 11 countries in Africa have active lymphatic filariasis programs. I believe we can do more than that. And, there is no better place to make a bold pronouncement of our resolve to eradicate this disease in Africa than here today. Let us all rededicate our efforts towards that goal.

You may all recall that, in the year 2000 in Abuja, Africa rededicated itself to the fight against Malaria and we have all, without doubt, seen the fruits of this renewed vigour. It is now time to redirect our efforts, with the same vigour, to fight against lymphatic filariasis and other neglected diseases.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I applaud the leadership of Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation, in raising the profile of tropical neglected diseases and placing a higher priority on them as causes of poverty and hence underdevelopment. We cannot afford perpetuation of diseases that keep our people chained in poverty. Therefore, the fight against these diseases should be considered pivotal to our concerted efforts to fight poverty.

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are many who say that all Africa needs is economic growth and that all these diseases will disappear. I would say yes and no because they compliment each but more importantly economic growth is greatly hampered by a sick population. My view therefore, is while we pursue economic growth, as governments, we have to deliberately, and in a big way, invest in the health of our people.

I am happy that the global community has come to appreciate that longevity and wellness are key indicators of development. Diseases must be prevented if people are to fully participate in the economic life of their societies. If, we in Africa, are really serious about fighting poverty then the fight against diseases is a battle we must fight and win. This is an integral part of the war against poverty.

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentleman,

The progress since you last met in Fiji has been marked by the recognition of Lymphatic Filariasis as a key part of the neglected disease agenda. The agenda which advocates the use of integrated approaches through Preventive Chemotherapy. Indeed, because of its global distribution, Lymphatic Filariasis is a major platform of this new public health package which is so cheap and cost effective. There are encouraging signs of support from the developed world. As you know, President George Bush of the United States of America announced a new commitment to Neglected Tropical Diseases on his recent trip to Africa to the tune of $350 million over 5 years. This is welcome indeed, we hope to see more of such commitments from the developed nations.

Lymphatic Filariasis is indeed part of this package which is based on the elevation of these diseases higher on the Global Health agenda. We welcome this increased attention to the lymphatic filariasis and other neglected tropical diseases, and how they impact on poverty. These diseases can be eliminated through concerted efforts of African governments, donor nations and agencies as well as the pharmaceutical companies.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I would like to make special recognition of the pharmaceutical companies Merck and Co., Inc. and GSK for their generous support in the form free issues of medicines: Avermetin and Albendazole. They are exceptional. They have made it possible for this fight to record the success achieved so far. I am delighted to note that they are continuing to play such a vital role. While we thank so much, these two companies, let me make a humble remind Governments and other responsible authorities in Africa about our responsibility to build on generosity of the donations from the pharmaceutical sector.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very impressed that Lymphatic Filariasis patients are a part of the programme for this meeting. It is very important to remember that they are the real reason that we are here. Let us listen to their stories with empathy and humility and keep in mind that our work is not done until this and other neglected diseases are eliminated. Let us work with Lymphatic Filariasis patients, as they can be our greatest advocates in promoting the work that we do in our Lymphatic Filariasis programmes. It is then more than anybody else who demonstrate that your efforts are worth the while.

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to end my remarks by renewing my personal commitment and that of my government to the fight against Lymphatic Filariasis. In this regard, I am glad to announce that I have decided to establish the President’s Lymphatic Filariasis Fund to buttress the efforts to fight against this preventable disease. I have committed 50 million Tanzanian shillings to the fund for now to start up. I thank other sponsors for contributing another 17 million shillings making the total start up for the fund a total of 67 million shillings. We would like to raise about 500,000 million in the next few months. Such amount will enable us treat the 15,000 hydrocele patients awaiting surgery.

This fund will directly benefit Lymphatic Filariasis patients in this country and will support hydrocele surgery for those who need it. It will also support those who have lymphoedema and elephantiasis. At the moment, there are 15,000 people registered for hydrocele surgery and that there are many more who are not registered.

I am hoping that these funds will go a long way towards giving support to these and other Lymphatic Filariasis patients needing our support. Let me personally thank Tanzania Ports Authority, National Social Security Fund, Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority, and the New Africa Hotel for their contribution to the fund. I hope others will come forward and contribute to this important cause.

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I know you have a busy schedule ahead of you. Again, I thank you for having invited me here today. And, I wish you all the best in your deliberations. I now have the honor to declare the 5th Meeting of Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis open.

God Bless Tanzania. God Bless Africa.

Thank you for your kind attention