The African Union (AU) Commission, in collaboration with the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Member States, is convening experts on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) programming for a regional meeting to discuss mobilising domestic resources and strengthening programs to combat NTDs in the Eastern and Central African regions from 31 May to 02 June in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
NTDs regularly occur within an area or community (endemic) in 49 AU Member States. They affect more than 600 million people, accounting for about 42% of the global burden of NTDs.
Socioeconomic factors such as poverty, heightened exposure to vectors, unsafe food and water, reservoir hosts and climate and other poor living conditions exacerbate the spread of NTDs.
In some regions of the African continent, socio-political conflicts and internal civil unrest continue to aggravate the spread of NTDs and hamper effective interventions to control and /or eliminate these diseases.
Reducing the burden of mortality and morbidity caused by NTDs is integral to improving the health of the world’s poorest populations. Although curable and preventable, NTDs cause more than 500,000 deaths yearly.
If untreated, NTDs can lead to blindness, disfigurement, chronic pain, cognitive and other long-term disabilities, and other irreversible damage that creates barriers to education, employment, economic growth, and stigmatisation, disastrously excluding them from society.
The last few decades have seen a significant political commitment to eliminating NTDs in the African region.
In April 2001, African Heads of State at the Abuja Summit recognised the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other related infectious diseases as a major health crisis and an exceptional threat to Africa’s development.
The leaders called for the containment and reversal of other major infectious diseases as part of the continental agenda to promote poverty reduction, sustainable development and political security. The Abuja call is reinforced by the AU Agenda 2063: “The Africa We Want”, which envisions healthy and well-nourished African citizens free of all diseases, including NTDs.
In addition, the AU Commission, at its bi-annual coordination summit in Lusaka in July 2022, adopted the Continental Framework and Common African Position on NTDs, which serve as guiding documents for the fight against these diseases, calling for increased national funding to achieve the goal of elimination.
This vision aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 3.3) to end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2030. It is also in line with the World Health Organisation’s NTD Roadmap launched in 2020, which calls for a 90% reduction in the number of people requiring NTD interventions between 2010 and 2030.
“The African Union (AU) Commission is committed to attaining Aspiration One, Goal three of Agenda 2063, of well-nourished and healthy citizens. The AU Continental Framework and Common African Position on NTDs recommend strong strategies to eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Africa. Our collective task moving forward is a mandate to increase investment, action and collaboration towards successfully implementing the recommendations. We are committed to collaborating with partners to progress the elimination of NTDs on the African Continent,”- Prof. Julio Rakotonirina, Director of Health and Humanitarian Affairs, Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development African Union Commission
“The East African Community (EAC) is pleased to be part of this regional engagement where Member States in Eastern and Central Africa will discuss Neglected tropical Diseases programming. Whereas countries in the EAC have made tremendous progress in addressing NTDs, including eliminating Guinea work in some countries, we still see citizens with complications such as chronic pain, disfigurement, social stigmatisation and other long-term irreversible damage arising from NTDs,” said – Dr. Michael Katende, East Africa Community (EAC).
Dr Katende said the economic contribution of these affected individuals to national and regional development is limited. “Therefore, all efforts must be directed towards supporting all countries in the EAC, IGAD and ECCAS region in creating an enabling environment, conducive for implementing integrated NTDs programs fully aligned to the continental framework. This regional meeting will identify challenges and bottlenecks and propose strategies for strengthening ownership, leadership, financing (both domestic and international) and areas for policy action to strengthen NTD programming. The EAC secretariat is committed to supporting the EAC partner states in the renewed efforts to eliminate NTDs by 2030,” he added.
According to Dr. Elisabeth Mukamba, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), efforts remain to be made to achieve an Africa with well-nourished and healthy citizens, as stipulated in the AU’s Agenda 2063.
She said ECCAS is improving the mobilisation of local resources, strengthening the coordination of the fight against diseases in general, and integrating interventions to offer the populations of the sub-region an appropriate care package with a view to significantly reducing the burden of morbidity and mortality linked to NTDs.
“To this end, ECCAS will spare no effort to provide technical support in defining innovative mechanisms for mobilising local resources in member states, as well as in strengthening mechanisms for building stronger, more resilient health systems with an integrated approach to disease control so that no one is left behind,” said Mukamba.
Dr. Dorothy Achu, the Lead for Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases, the World Health Organization for Africa (WHO AFRO) said countries are both drivers and the beneficiaries of progress towards the 2030 NTD targets.
Dr Achu added that national and local governments must lead the work to define agendas and realise their objectives by mobilising domestic resources, galvanising stakeholders, and ensuring strong health systems built on the foundation of primary health care to address people’s health needs close to where they live.
The Continental Framework highlights the core principles of the African Regional Framework for the control, eradication, and elimination of tropical and vector-borne diseases (TVD) 2022-2030, endorsed by member states in August 2022, which encourages governments to provide leadership and commit to the achievement of global and national targets.
“The burden of NTDs is felt strongly in the African continent, but collectively, Africa is demonstrating great leadership through the Continental Framework, so we need to continue to build on this to accelerate progress, mobilise resources, and secure increased funding. We encourage leaders to sign the Kigali Declaration, a high-level political declaration mobilising political will, community commitment, resources and action, as well as enter that commitment directly into the Kigali Declaration Commitment Tracker so the community can monitor progress, act together, and demonstrate that we are all 100% committed to ending NTDs,” – Ms. Victoria Sykes, Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
The meeting participants will review the progress made by EAC and ECCAS Member States in domesticating the Continental Framework. A roadmap for strengthening NTD programming in the region will also be developed – including a coordination mechanism to guide the Eastern and Central Africa Member States towards successfully adopting and implementing the Continental Framework.