A recent data released shows that sub-Saharan Africa could save $52 billion between 2011-2030 if the region meets the World Health Organisation’s 2020 targets for controlling or eliminating the five most common Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Nigeria alone could save nearly $12 billion and avert the equivalent of over 23 million years of life that would have otherwise been lost to ill health, disability and early death.
These statistics developed by Erasmus University with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, were released at an event hosted by the World Economic Forum on Africa and the END Fund, an international philanthropic organisation in Kigali, Rwanda.
Nigeria is affected by all five of the most common NTDs, including lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms), and trachoma. Fortunately, however, much work is ongoing to prevent and treat NTDs in Nigeria and protect people against these debilitating diseases, but stakeholders across Africa believed much needs to be done in the area of funding for its elimination.
At the event, the Chief Executive Officer, END Fund, Ellen Agler, said “NTD control efforts offer a return on investment unparalleled in global health,” adding that, “ending these debilitating diseases will help reduce poverty at all levels, from families and communities to whole nations.”
NTDs are a diverse group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that are particularly prevalent in areas with limited access to safe water, proper sanitation and adequate medical services.
According to statistics, sub-Saharan Africa bears over 40 per cent of the global burden of NTDs, with Nigeria taking a major chunk of the burden.
The report also showed that the impact of NTDs on both health and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa is massive. Each year, these diseases cause disabilities and disfigurements for millions of African citizens with Nigeria taking a major chunk of the burden.
NTDs have also been known to cause a marked increase in absenteeism in schools and dramatically reduce labour productivity, ultimately perpetuating cycles of poverty.
“I have seen the devastating effects of NTDs first hand in my community,” said HRH Queen Sylvia of Buganda, a kingdom in Uganda, who delivered remarks at the event. “We cannot continue to let people across Africa suffer from these diseases of poverty when simple solutions exist. It is holding our people and our countries back. We can and we must do more.”
The five most common NTDs in sub-Saharan Africa can effectively be prevented and treated using low-cost, easy-to-administer interventions, such as preventive chemotherapy (PC) treatments through mass drug administration (MDA) in affected communities. Such interventions are extremely cost effective due to a number of factors, including drug donations (valued at $4 billion annually); the scale of national programmes; the integration of drug delivery with other health initiatives; the use of volunteers and teachers for distribution; and the massive impact of NTD control on economic productivity and educational outcomes. Pharmaceutical interventions work alongside other prevention strategies, including the promotion of safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
“Now is the time for leaders across Africa to prioritise NTD control and put an end to these terrible diseases in order to improve the lives of our people,” said Rwandan Minister of Health Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, who also spoke at the event. “In Rwanda, we have invested in our people, and we have seen progress as a result of this commitment. With human lives at stake, we simply cannot afford to wait