We’re kicking off 2023 with energy and optimism. Why? Because the world is seeing incredible progress in the fight against some of the most devastating diseases we know of: neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs. (We are global health nerds, after all.)
What does it take to tackle a group of 20 preventable diseases that affect 1.7 billion people—and wipe them out for good by 2030? There’s a plan for that: the WHO’s NTD Roadmap outlines the path needed to achieve control, elimination, and eradication in the most burdened places. And recent breakthroughs show how much is possible through sustained commitment and collaboration.
Every year on January 30th, World NTD Day brings the global health community (see the above reference to nerds) together to remind the world about these diseases through stories that demonstrate the power of tackling these diseases and the need for action to save lives. This year, following the 2022 Kigali Declaration on NTDs, it comes with a truly global call-to-action: Act now. Act together. Invest in ending neglected tropical diseases.
Why we’re optimistic and what we’re celebrating (so far!) this year
Breakthroughs in Elimination
It takes a lot of persistence, resilience, and dedication to reach zero cases of a disease—elimination of transmission. A handful of countries are leading the way to incredible achievements to eliminate devastating diseases, including:
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was certified in December by WHO as free of transmission of Guinea worm disease (aka dracunculiasis). This milestone is the result of years of sustained investment, including major support from the Carter Center and Gates Foundation. Only six countries in the world remain to be certified, marking a huge step toward the global eradication of Guinea worm.
- Malawi, which was certified by the WHO as having eliminated blinding trachoma as a public health problem—and is now the fourth country in WHO’s Africa region to achieve this milestone. This victory comes a decade after the Ministry of Health launched its national trachoma control program. While trachoma remains a threat in 42 countries, recent eliminations are beacons of light on the path to ending the disease.
Breakthroughs in Innovation
To eliminate and ultimately eradicate a disease, you need the tools to detect and treat it, yet some of the existing treatments available for NTDs are not accessible or adapted enough to the needs of patients across age, gender, or geography. R&D is the heartbeat of innovation to get NTDs over the finish line. Years of research and clinical trials have surfaced effective new treatments with the potential to impact and improve significantly the lives of people around the world, including:
- Acoziborole, the first all-oral, single-dose treatment for sleeping sickness, which is fatal without treatment. Developed by Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and Sanofi, this drug has potential to transform the patient and care experience in West and Central Africa using a “screen-and-treat” approach in community—and could be a critical tool to help finally eliminate sleeping sickness.
- Miltefosine (MF) and paromomycin (PM), a new combination of existing drugs that is safer and over 91% effective in treating visceral leishmaniasis (VL), an extremely rare but deadly disease if left untreated. DNDi’s collaboration to develop and test this new treatment will eliminate the need for one painful and toxic injection, benefiting children (who are the majority of VL patients), lowering the risk of a common complication of VL, and reducing hospitalizations.
- Moxidectin, an FDA-approved drug that could be game-changing for over 270 million patients as a more effective, longer-lasting treatment for river blindness, or onchocerciasis. Sponsored by Medicines Development Global Health (MDGH) with foundation support, this drug could also accelerate elimination of lymphatic filariasis for over 290 million people in Africa, as a combination treatment for those co-infected with both diseases.
What we hope to celebrate next year
The world can’t sit on its laurels when there’s so much more to do for patients affected by NTDs. We’re encouraged by new developments on the horizon, including that:
- Global Guinea worm cases reached an all-time low of 13 total cases reported in all of 2022.
- A vaccine for schistosomiasis is under development by the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium (IDCRC). If effective, it will provide a safe and cost-effective option to reach the 221 million people requiring treatment each year.
- Senegal is on the verge of interrupting the transmission of river blindness. It will be the second African country to reach this milestone, allowing millions of people to prosper without the burden of this disease.
- Benin is closer to the elimination of trachoma, the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment. This is achieved through support of the Accelerate program, which aims to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem in Benin and seven other countries.
Be part of the solution with us – it doesn’t take much
You can support World NTD Day by raising awareness and making a commitment alongside us. Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases—a coalition of public, private, and nonprofit partners working toward WHO’s 2030 NTD Roadmap goals—has a list of NGO partners doing lifesaving work.
Key players are tackling NTDs end-to-end, from clinical discovery and R&D for new treatments, to delivery of lifesaving drugs meeting patients where they are, to advocacy and policy changes that keep patients’ stories front and center. These include:
- The END Fund
- The Carter Center
- Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi)
- Youth Combating NTDs
- Reaching the Last Mile
When all of us act boldly and act together, bright, healthy futures for everyone can be well within reach.