On 30th January 2023, WHO released a progress report on neglected tropical diseases (NTD) to coincide with World Neglected Tropical Disease Day. The report, “Global report on neglected tropical diseases 2023” explores the progress and challenges associated with NTD care across the globe, “against a backdrop of COVID-19 related disruptions”.
The call from WHO and partners this year is “Act now. Act together. Invest in neglected tropical diseases.” Under this theme, WHO demands a concerted collaboration from everybody, from “leaders” to “communities” to “confront the inequalities that drive NTDs”. With “bold, sustainable investments” WHO hopes to “free the world’s most vulnerable communities affected by NTDs from a vicious cycle of disease and poverty”.
The WHO emphasises the NTDs “continue to disproportionately affect the poorest members of the global community”. Specifically, areas where “water safety, sanitation, and access to health care are inadequate” suffer most. Although up to 179 countries and territories recorded at least one case of NTDs in 2021, “16 countries accounted for 80% of the global NTD burden”. An estimated 1.65 billion people were estimated to require treatment for “at least one NTD”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, recognises the “millions of people have been liberated from the burden” of NTDs. However, the report identifies “a lot of work to do”.
“The good news is, we have the tools and the know-how not just to save lives and prevent suffering, but to free entire communities and countries of these diseases.”
Without investment and collaboration, he worries that people will remain “trapped in cycles of poverty and stigma”.
The “ultimate goal” as identified in the report is a “world free of the burden” of NTDs. With a “global community” WHO continues to work towards this goal. Although “progress has been made” since the launch of the 2021-2022 NTD road map, “hindrances towards achieving the targets for 2030 have arisen”.
Obstacles such as the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have “continued to afflict longstanding and new programmes alike”. On the other hand, “entrenched issues have re-emerged in new and challenging ways”.
However, there have been some steps in the right direction, and the report acknowledges this. In the most recent decade, the number of people “requiring interventions against NTDs has decreased by 25%”. Furthermore, the burden of disease “calculated in disability adjusted life years” is also decreasing. By December 2022, 47 countries had “eliminated at least one NTD”.
3 main pillars of the 2030 road map
The ambitious targets in the road map are centred around 3 pillars. The first is programmatic action. This has been “accelerated” for the areas that were identified in the road map:
- Strategic and technical recommendations
- Normative guidance and tools
- Global advocacy
Further to this, in the “areas of medicines and other health products” donations have reached new diseases to promote better medicines. Innovation has been “fostered”. Action is also underway to address the “challenges of antimicrobial resistance”. Finally, work on “gender equity, and human rights” is progressing.
The second pillar is cross-cutting approaches, which the report suggests have “been intensified”. For example, preventative chemotherapy is being “expanded to other diseases such as taeniasis”. The skin-NTD approach is “rapidly imposing itself as a powerful resource to address the burden of at least 10 diseases with dermatological manifestations”.
Cross-sectoral coordination has progressed for “One Health and Wash”, and the “global vector control response has been strengthened”.
“Finally, efforts have been made to strengthen the cohesiveness of the monitoring and evaluation process for NTDs, to improve its consistency across all 20 conditions and to boost data visualisation through interactive dashboards.”
The third pillar is to change operating models and culture to facilitate country ownership. This can be seen in the adoption of WHO’s sustainability framework in many countries. Coordination has been “stimulated” by “global collectives of NTD partners and platforms for advocacy and information-sharing”. It is clear that “sustainable financing” is a “key factor” in furthering progress towards the road map targets.
Time to act
The report emphasises the need to “reverse delays to progress” and build on “past gains”. This can be done through “innovative operations and financing solutions” that promote collaboration across sectors.
“Time is of the essence as we work together to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3.3 and end the epidemic of NTDs by 2030.”