Approaches to sustained control of neglected tropical diseases need to evolve and adapt

Approaches to ensure sustainable neglected tropical disease (NTD) programmes should be devised and prioritized to achieve the 2030 road map targets and end the neglect that these diseases of poverty inflict on more than one billion people worldwide.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted health structures, it has taught us how to galvanize broad support to address inequalities and strengthen social systems.

To avoid reversing the gains achieved over the past decade, governments must take an active role in leveraging national systems and in providing comprehensive services to affected populations. Innovation should remain a high priority in this context.

A few take-home messages emerged from a webinar that was jointly hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) this week.

Panelists from several countries and institutions participated in the discussion which focused on various aspects of the ‘sustainability framework’, a companion documents to the road map. Ending the neglect to attain the sustainable development goals: a sustainability framework for action against neglected tropical diseases 2021-20301 aims to embed sustainability considerations into national health policies, strategies and plans. It advocates for a systems-wide approach with key decision-makers, such as health ministries, to determine resource allocation and ensure efficiency-related sustainability of NTD programmes.

Discussions also focused on One Health and how to address fragmented approaches to NTD programme implementation, to ensure appropriate resource allocation and to involve stakeholders in decision-making.

Some country examples highlighted how new ideas can work.

In the Philippines, added tax levied on tobacco and liquor products is supporting universal health coverage, including NTD projects. The country is also pressing ahead with integrating NTD programmes that involve training and support from sectors such as education and primary care facilities.

In Senegal, decentralized health education is being implemented in school curricula.

In Uganda, a sustainability plan for NTDs was launched in January after wide consultation, with significant political support and financial commitment.

In Nepal, both leprosy and trachoma have been eliminated as a public health problem. The country has now moved to include many NTDs into a basic health service package provided free of charge to benefit vulnerable segments of the population.

The ‘call for action’ segment of the webinar called on governments to assume a more participatory role in driving NTD programmes, as the sustainability framework provides a pathway to working with everyone across sectors. Investment in health data management systems to improve surveillance of NTDs and more action and investment are needed to sustain the gains of decades of hard work.

The task now is to do things differently: to better plan and implement NTD programmes through robust political commitment, accountability, inclusiveness and multisectoral action.

To view the webinar please see: https://youtu.be/QtzJiuEsgMQ

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1 In the context of NTDs, the framework defines sustainability as “the ability of national health systems to maintain or increase effective coverage of interventions against NTDs to achieve the outcomes, targets and milestones identified in the new road map for 2030″.

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