By Samwel Doe Ouma

African countries must be bold, committed and take community ownership to end Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) by 2030, Elimination programs and multisector collaborations will also be required in order to attain the elimination goals. NTDs experts said in Nairobi.

According to several experts who spoke during the three-day End fund global learning summit, several challenges still exist in the journey to eliminate NTDs. They include poor integration and coordination of various programs working within NTDs arena, insufficient and unstable funding, climate change and emerging threats such as covid-19.

Speaking at the event, Dr Dereje Duguma, state minister Ethiopia, one health collaboration is required in agriculture, environment, health and water, sanitation and hygiene sphere as well as owning the programs through countries’ domestic financing to ensure uninterrupted running of the programs.

“Philanthropists, the private sector, NGOs, and governments must work collaboratively to address NTDs crises and African governments must ensure that more sustainable efforts are pursued to NTDs elimination across the continent,” he said

He added that “Countries must be self-reliant or strive to become so to end NTDs, as we are grateful for external support Africa must find solutions to its problems.” Dr Sultan Matendechero, head Kenya public health institute said that countries must bear the vision of ending NTDs by contributing significantly towards elimination of these diseases.

Domestic financing

“For sustainability of elimination programs countries must not over rely on donor support and should quantify their inputs in these activities, Kenya is already contributing towards this course but haven’t quantified their input, he said adding that, “Countries should take charge of elimination agenda.”

Dr Matendechero reiterated that domestic financing must be explored and increased as alternative funding mechanisms for achieving NTDs elimination goals.

“We must own our elimination initiatives,” Dr Sultani said adding that “as long as we don’t embrace domestic financing, we will not meet our targets being cognizant of the fact that these targets can be met only with adequate funding from donors’ philanthropists as well as domestic financing that will help in strengthening health systems that can successfully prevent, detect and treat NTDs.”

The conference was attended by more than 250 participants among them government officials, scientists, researchers, academia and project managers. They deliberated on integration within and across sectors, collaborations, connections, co-creation and community involvement towards reaching neglected tropical disease elimination by 2030.

The END Fund – the largest philanthropic organization dedicated to ending five of the most common NTDs – hosted the learning and collaborations convention on May 30th to June 1st in Nairobi to discuss how African leaders can collaborate to respond to the need of the continent to eliminate NTDs by 2030.

NTDs are a diverse set of 20 diseases and disease groups such as lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, human African trypanosomiasis, leprosy, and many others- with a singular commonality: their impact on impoverished communities.

Neglected diseases

They are called neglected because they have been largely wiped out in other parts of more developed world but persist only in the poorest, most marginalized communities and conflict areas.

Social stigma is a major consequence of NTDs and in addition to causing physical and emotional suffering, these devastating diseases hamper a person’s ability to work, keep children out of school and prevent families and communities from thriving.

Together they affect more than a billion people worldwide and approximately 25 million Kenyans with devastating health, social and economic consequences.

Kenya is one of several countries across the world experiencing NTDs like leishmaniasis, chikungunya, dengue and other hemorrhagic viruses.

According to Dr Carol Karutu, Vice president, Programs the END Fund, for African countries to meet elimination goals strong national health systems and country ownership of the programs will be critical to ensure progress towards NTD control and elimination.

“Elimination of NTDs will require both country and community ownership since it will not only accelerate but also sustain the progress made so far over the past decade,” Dr Karutu told reporters.

Addressing delegates on health systems and people centered approaches, Prof Daniel Boakye, senior technical advisor programs, End fund, said that community advocacy in elimination targets is lacking.

He called for community involvement to drive implementation models saying that “there is a need to involve local villagers and community members to manage education and prevention efforts,” adding that “most of the advocacy are done around funding.” Dr Sammy Njenga, Senior research scientists Kenya research organization (Kemri) challenged countries to invest in laboratories that will support surveillance and catalyze sustainability.

He added that communities must be involved in this journey saying that “they are likely to support introduction of innovative drugs and treatments when benefits of change are explained to them.”

Increased interaction

With the increasing trade and interaction among individuals and communities living along national boundaries has seen the risk of cross-border transmission of infection of NTDs in the region.

The experts also called for cross-border partnerships in mitigating the risk of cross- border transmission, mobilization of resources to strengthen and sustain on-going efforts to control and eliminate the NTDs.

Kenya ministry of health permanent secretary Susan Mochache said that Kenya has allocated Shs 24 billion to fund elimination goals, pledging that Kenya is firmly committed to the WHO’s new roadmap for neglected tropical diseases 2021-2030.

Wycliff Omondi, head, Kenya ministry of Health, division of Vector Borne and Neglected Diseases said “besides developing NTD national plan, Kenya has been certified free of guinea worm and has achieved interruption of transmission for African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and onchocerciasis (river blindness)”.

So far, 45 countries have eliminated at least one NTD. Of the five countries that have eliminated an NTD in 2022, four are African. Kenya has been certified guinea worm free by the World Health Organization. Other countries that got certification includes Togo and Benin which have eliminated Trachoma. Uganda and Rwanda have eliminated human African trypanosomiasis.

Kenya is on its way to eliminate Elephantiasis caused by Lymphatic Filariasis (LF).LF is a mosquito-borne NTD and found mainly in coastal regions of Kenya along the Indian Ocean.