Health For All: 5 Reasons We’re Betting Big on NTD Programs

RTI | Int'l Dev
Dec 15, 2017 · 5 min read

By Lisa Rotondo, Director, ENVISION project. Twitter: @lisarotondo

Health worker Madjiguene Seck and Mame Diarra Diouf measure Awa Dieng, 23 years old, to determine the correct dosage of the oral medication zithromax she will receive at Mame’s home in the city of Touba, Diourbel region, Senegal. Photo Credit: RTI International/Sam Phelps.

This week, we at RTI renew our commitment to the global movement for universal health coverage and we recognize the tremendous progress since the London Declaration on NTDs. It’s a wonderful thing to celebrate these momentous milestones together.

So what’s the link between the two? They make separate commitments, but have a shared goal — health for all. I believe NTD programs are a gateway for universal health coverage. Uniting to Combat NTDs just launched the fifth progress report and scorecard of the London Declaration on NTDs –Reaching a billion: Ending NTDs: A Gateway to UHC — celebrating the incredible progress of NTD programs in reducing the burden of disease and improving the quality of life for some of the world’s poorest communities. It underscores the value of NTD programs in achieving universal health coverage more broadly, through unprecedented public-private partnerships, national scale and reach, innovative solutions, and much more.

How do we know it’s happening? We see it every day.

For more than 10 years, RTI has provided technical assistance to national NTD programs working towards 2020 targets for NTD control and elimination. Through ENVISION, USAID’s flagship NTD project, we support countries at nearly all phases of NTD program implementation — from mapping every village where NTDs plague their communities to their ultimate goal, achieving control and elimination. These efforts strengthen many of the national institutions and systems that will have a lasting impact on universal health coverage.

I’m not typically a betting woman, but if I were, I would bet big on NTDs in reaching health for all. Here are five reasons why:

Students from Atu government school in Calabar, Nigeria receive medicines for NTDs during mass drug administration. Photo Credit: RTI International/Ruth McDowall

1) One Billion Strong

In 2016 alone, the World Health Organization announced that 1 BILLION people received treatment for at least one NTD. The scale and reach of global NTD efforts are enormous and they are growing — WHO estimates that together, national NTD programs are now reaching more than 60 percent of those in need.

At RTI, we too have seen the incredible achievement of scale. Since 2012, ENVISION has provided more than 1.1 billion treatments for NTDs. ENVISION’s efforts are focused on supporting countries to scale up treatment to all populations that need them, and we know that the next phase is already requiring innovative efforts as we target some of the hardest-to-reach and most vulnerable communities.

School College Martin Luther in Liberte where a Trasmission Assessment Survey is about to take place. Students, ages 6 and 7 arrive to be tested for LF and Malaria. Photo Credit: RTI International/ Timothy La Rose

2) Elimination is happening

RTI is supporting countries to conduct surveys to assess impact, and helping to begin the preparation of elimination dossiers, crucial elements for ensuring program success. Through ENVISION, we’ve had the pleasure of supporting Laos (trachoma) and Cambodia (LF and trachoma) as they consolidate their successes and receive WHO recognition of elimination.

Around the world, country by country, NTDs are being eliminated. We’re seeing this in the Americas with the elimination of onchocerciasis and in a growing number of countries realizing the elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF) and trachoma. WHO is announcing these incredible milestones in real time and the list of countries on the near horizon is promising.

Children in the village of Niokhoul Fall, Kébémer District, Senegal. Photo Credit: RTI International/ Sam Phelps.

3) District by District, people are no longer at risk

WHO estimates that more than 400 million people no longer require preventive chemotherapy for NTDs globally. Let that sink in, 400 million people. More than the entire population of the United States.

While many countries still have areas in need of treatment, these milestones show us that we are winning, district by district. In ENVISION-supported countries, more than 209 million people no longer require treatment for LF and more than 73 million no longer require treatment for trachoma. What do these successes look like? It looks like a global map, with districts being checked off one-by-one. It looks like progress. Real and measurable.

Participants at the Tropical Data training in Tanzania learn to plan and carry out surveys for trachoma. Photo Credit: RTI International/Shea Flynn

4) NTD Programs reach some of the poorest and most remote communities

NTD programs provide high-quality, affordable treatment and community-based care in areas that health systems have historically neglected. In refugee camps, insecure areas, and places with impassable roads, RTI teams are working alongside national health ministries to reach the hard-to-reach places with medicines and surgical interventions for NTDs. Harnessing the power of local communities, ENVISION has trained more than 1 million people to implement NTD programs in their communities.

Fabian Ogban trains to become a community drug distributor in Biase, Cross River State, Nigeria. Photo Credit: RTI International/Ruth McDowall

5) Record-breaking generosity

In 2017, the global NTD community had the pleasure of breaking the Guinness World Record for the most treatments donated in 24 hours. The generous support of our pharmaceutical partners is unprecedented and it makes NTDs a best buy in global health.

Every $1 invested by the US government in USAID-supported NTD programs leveraged $26 in donated medicines. That’s the kind of return on investment we all wish we had in our 401(k). More than $13 billion in donated medicines have been delivered to the countries we support through ENVISION.

The path is clear, the progress is real. The global NTD community benefits from some of the brightest and most passionate minds and tremendous partnerships. Because of these, I’m ready to bet big on NTDs and trust that controlling and eliminating NTDs will help us achieve health for all.

For more information on RTI’s work fighting neglected tropical diseases, please visit our project website and follow the NTDs team on Twitter.

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RTI | Int'l Dev

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RTI's #globaldev team applies science and knowledge to improve lives in developing countries around the world. An official @RTI_INTL feed.

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