Unite, Act, Eliminate: Mobilising Africa’s Response Against Neglected Tropical Diseases
Children in Muheza, Tanzania, await testing for lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis.

African leaders must take the lead in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases, invest in their control and elimination, and foster cross-border collaboration to achieve the goal of eliminating NTDs as public health concerns by 2030.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) continue to pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of millions of people across Africa. As we strive towards the ambitious goal of eliminating NTDs as public health problems by 2030, it is imperative that we forge greater collaboration at global and regional levels. The Continental Framework and African Common Position on NTDs alongside the WHO Global Roadmap on NTDs (2021-2030) provide provides us with a clear roadmap for action, offering hope and a renewed commitment to tackling these diseases head-on.

Promising steps towards NTD elimination

Africa has made remarkable progress in the fight against NTDs, achieving significant victories against specific diseases. Blinding trachoma has been eradicated in Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Morocco and Togo, while lymphatic filariasis has been eliminated in Egypt, Malawi and Togo. The eradication of Guinea worm extends to Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Uganda.

One of the key factors contributing to these successes has been the establishment of successful public-private partnerships. Non-governmental development organizations have played a crucial role by contributing to the donation of medicines for Mass Drug Administration (MDA) and supporting other vital NTD interventions, including research and innovation.

Additionally, mass drug administration targets diseases like lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths, and trachoma, leading to a decline in prevalence.

Countries are also scaling up control efforts, employing case management, vector control, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) strategies, and One Health approaches. These collective actions demonstrate Africa’s unwavering commitment to combating NTDs and improving the well-being of its people. 

Collective action and innovative financing are essential 

The NTDs prioritized by the WHO are a diverse group of 20 diseases and disease groups that have one thing in common: their devastating impact on impoverished communities.

Despite these successes,  we cannot afford to overlook the persistent challenges that continue to hinder progress in eliminating NTDs. Africa bears a significant burden, accounting for around 40% of global NTD cases. 

Among the 55 African Union Member States, 37 nations face the co-endemicity of at least five NTDs, disproportionately affecting impoverished and marginalized communities. The consequences of these diseases, such as blindness, disfigurement, social stigma, chronic pain, cognitive impairment, disabilities, and long-term irreversible damage, hinder education, employment, economic growth, and overall development, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Furthermore, a majority of NTD programmes across the continent suffer from insufficient funding, hindering sustained progress against these debilitating diseases. In alignment with this, WHO’s Case for Investment in NTDs highlights the gaps in funding for NTDs and emphasizes the necessity to consistently support cost-effective interventions and develop innovative financing strategies that can better facilitate collaborative actions across various sectors.

In terms of policy, interventions often occur in isolation, with limited coordination and integration at national and regional levels, further impeding efforts towards elimination.

Africa is leading the fight in reducing the burden of disease, including NTDs and malaria, through mechanisms such as the Africa Health Strategy and the Catalytic framework to end AIDS, TB, and Malaria. These efforts have shaped our response and set a clear direction for the control, elimination, and eradication of diseases by 2030. The WHO NTD Roadmap complements these initiatives, providing overall guidance.

Additionally, the recently established Continental Framework on the elimination of NTDs in Africa offers a vital roadmap to guide our collective efforts in combatting NTDs. By aligning with these ambitious frameworks, we can chart a course toward a healthier future for our continent. 

Coordinated policy integration is critical to overcome barriers 

President Umaro Sissoco Embaló of the Republic of Guinea Bissau and Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA).

Now is the time for African Union member states to unite, strengthen our resolve, and take decisive action against NTDs. To truly make an impact, we must fully embrace our responsibility, take ownership, and demonstrate leadership in reducing the prevalence, elimination, and eradication of NTDs. This entails reinforcing policies that promote effective control and elimination strategies. Moreover, fostering inter-state partnerships, especially through cross-border collaboration, is crucial in our fight against NTDs. 

Furthermore, investment in NTD programmes, research and development, and the advancement of local diagnostic tools are essential for informed intervention strategies. Mobilising domestic resources plays a pivotal role in this endeavour.

My own country, Guinea Bissau, serves as a great point of reference, leading the way in alternative financing for NTDs by establishing an integrated End Malaria and NTDs Council. This high-level multisectoral council will keep malaria high on the advocacy and development agenda and mobilise both public and private sector resources to support the elimination of both NTDs and malaria. I am encouraging all countries in Africa to establish their own Malaria and NTD councils and funds as a means of strengthening local interventions.

Addressing the social determinants of health also is paramount in our battle against NTDs. Poverty, inadequate sanitation, lack of clean water, and limited access to education perpetuate the cycle of NTDs. To break free from this cycle, we must collaborate across multiple sectors to tackle these underlying factors. This includes investing in sanitation infrastructure, promoting hygienic practices, and empowering individuals economically. By addressing the root causes of NTDs, we can create lasting change and enhance the overall well-being of our communities.

Harness data for greater progress

NTD scorecard for Guinea Bissau’s Southeastern neighbour, Guinea, for July to December 2022.

Data is an invaluable tool in the development and implementation of strategic interventions against NTDs. Since 2017, the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) has been actively supporting African Union Member States in their efforts to control and eliminate NTDs through the use of NTDs scorecards for accountability and action.

So far, 17 countries have adopted these scorecard tools, resulting in significant outcomes. For instance, NTD scorecards have helped to secure additional domestic and partner resources to address the identified areas of underperformance. The scorecards have also improved the availability of real-time data by encouraging countries to include NTD indicators in their routine Health Management Information Systems. 

By strengthening surveillance and data collection efforts, countries can enhance their diagnostic capabilities and build resilient health systems capable of delivering high-quality and equitable healthcare to all. The fight against NTDs requires a united and coordinated effort from all fronts. By implementing these measures and committing the necessary resources, we can create a healthier and more prosperous Africa, ensuring that no one is left behind in our pursuit of a continent free from the burden of NTDs. 

As we move forward, let us draw inspiration from the progress made by countries within our continent and continually work towards mitigating persistent challenges head on. By collaborating, strengthening our health systems and addressing key gaps, we can eradicate NTDs and establish a healthier and more prosperous Africa that benefits everyone. This commitment requires investment at both national and international levels to ensure sustained progress. We must act now, and in unity.

His Excellency Umaro Sissoco Embaló is the President of the Republic of Guinea Bissau and current chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA).


Image Credits: CDC, ALMA.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.