Today, delegates participating in the virtual Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly endorsed a decision recognizing 30 January as World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day (‘World NTD Day’).
Partners first informally celebrated World NTD Day in 2020. In 2021, and to coincide with the launch of the new NTD road map on 28 January, many events were held worldwide including the illumination of several iconic buildings to shine a light on the suffering these diseases cause.
For countries where neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are prevalent and for the global community of partners, this is a new dawn.
“World NTD Day is in appreciation of the work spearheaded by the United Arab Emirates along with other Member States and partners to inspire and incentivize communities to fight these debilitating diseases,” said Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “I am confident this recognition will further motivate everyone to work across sectors to implement the new road map, which aims to free over a billion people from these diseases by 2030.”
Several Member States were instrumental in generating consensus around World NTD Day. The decision, proposed by the United Arab Emirates, was adopted unanimously.
With everyone’s support, it will raise much-needed attention and visibility to these diseases of poverty.
World NTD Day commemorates the simultaneous launch of the first NTD road map and the London Declaration on NTDs on 30 January 2012. It was on this day that the world’s biggest public–private sector partnership was founded, and substantial pledges made to end NTDs.
Impact of NTDs
NTDs are a group of conditions that affect more than a billion people who mostly live in marginalized, rural and poor urban areas and conflict zones. Although they are preventable and treatable, these diseases – and their intricate interrelationships with poverty and ecological systems – continue to cause devastating health, social and economic consequences.
Several NTDs disproportionately affect children, girls and women and the elderly. Some diseases with cutaneous manifestations (the so-called “skin NTDs”, which include cutaneous leishmaniasis and leprosy) are disfiguring, particularly for women, because they delay health-seeking behaviour, diagnosis and treatment. These diseases often leave visible scars, which have psychological, social and economic impacts that are amplified for women because of gender-based cultural norms and expectations; children infected with soil-transmitted helminthiases are nutritionally and physically impaired.
The support of partners is crucial to accelerate the end of NTDs and to facilitate the adoption of grassroots approaches for NTD programmes to access some of the world’s poorest and most hard-to reach communities.
Tackling NTDs is a litmus test of progress towards the achievement of universal health coverage, which can only be attained if people affected by or at risk of these diseases are adequately reached by health services.
The role of countries, health workers, volunteers and partners is essential to implementing programmes that ensure equitable access to health care and services. Success in overcoming NTDs is largely due to donations of medicines by many pharmaceutical companies who also assist in capacity strengthening activities.
The NTD road map and additional efforts needed
Despite progress, more work is needed to end the neglect. WHO’s new road map for 2021–2030 calls for three strategic shifts to achieve this ambition:
- from measuring process to measuring impact;
- from disease-specific planning and programming to collaborative work across sectors; and
- from externally driven agendas reliant to programmes that are country-owned and country-financed.
The global NTD partnership includes hundreds of organizations that support programme implementation and contribute to working with health ministries and communities.