Last week, the World Health Organisation formally launched its new roadmap that sets targets for achieving the eradication of several neglected tropical diseases by 2030. NTDs are a group of 20 diseases that affect more than a billion people and thrive in areas where access to quality health services, clean water, and sanitation are scarce.
Nigeria needs to commit to and abide by the WHO guidelines as the failure of the country to meet the set targets could set back the achievement of regional and global targets. Nigeria launched a NTD master plan in February 2015 that charted a treatment and prevention course through 2020. In his foreword for the master plan, Nigeria’s former Health Minister Dr. Khaliru Alhassan noted that Nigeria has a heavy NTDs burden, stating that 122 million people in Nigeria are at risk of one or more NTDs. Today, more than 134 million people in Nigeria are living with one or more NTDs. There is therefore a lot of work that is still to be done.
One of the targets of the WHO road map is a 90 per cent reduction in the need for treatment for NTDs by 2030. In addition to providing intermittent targets and strategies towards this goal, the WHO and its partners hope the road map will inspire increased commitment to NTD programmes and re-energise key partners to speed up their efforts. The key actions the road map puts forward aimed to achieve include the ambitious goal of encouraging collaboration across platforms to deliver NTD interventions at lower costs and with wider coverage.
The work in Nigeria is far from over and it is critical that sustainable efforts are made to improve the quality of life for people affected by these diseases. According to the NTD mass treatment coverage index, Nigeria achieved a treatment coverage of 76 per cent and ranked 7th out of all countries in Africa that are endemic for at least one of the five NTDs that can be treated with preventative chemotherapy medications. The index also showed that while 96.96 million Nigerians received treatment for NTDs in 2019, 37.59 million people did not. In general, treatment coverage for NTDs varies by disease. For example, significant gains in treatment coverage were recorded from 2018 to 2019 for blinding trachoma (53% to 67%), intestinal worms (44% to 76%), and bilharzia (67% to 99%), with more modest gains in coverage for river blindness (79% to 80%). However, Nigeria recorded retrogression in treatment coverage for elephantiasis, which dropped from 65% in 2018 to 62% in 2019.
The new road map seeks to ensure that 90 per cent of people who have an NTD can receive treatment by 2030. In order to achieve this, the deployment of a multi-sectoral, people-centred approach must address critical gaps across multiple disease areas by integrating health services within national health systems and across sectors.
The Director of WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr. Mwelecele Malecela, said the road map aims to put people first. It involves working across sectors in delivering programmes for all the 20 NTDs and promoting equity and country ownership. Moreover, Malecela added that programmes have to be sustainable with measurable outcomes, backed by adequate domestic financing.
Government support and backing for NTD programmes and initiatives are important. Without such support, people may reject the medicines which will lead to low coverage and a waste of resources. With government support, NTD programmes can be welcomed into communities and are able to reach people from all walks of life. Furthermore, most of the metrics of a successful NTD intervention programme can be achieved when the government is brought on board—the programme’s wide acceptance, strong involvement of community leaders, and increased commitment of the people.
Clear expectation setting and accountability are also required at the grassroots level, aptly demonstrated through buy-in is needed from local leaders. In Nigeria, local leaders are critical to NTD programmes as they play active roles in mobilising their people, attending programmes and publicly taking NTD medicines to show their support and encourage all eligible persons to participate. This was evident in an Osun mass administration of medicine campaign where the AMEN Foundation worked with local chiefs and community leaders to alleviate the burden of NTDs. During the campaign, chiefs were not only the first to take medicines, but they were major proponents of the importance of deworming.
In addition to the aforementioned stakeholders, a critical one is the private sector. It has been rightly described as the engine of growth and is increasingly being identified as a driver of social development. The private sector has a shared interest in achieving social development outcomes, as they are a key driver to economic development. After all, business success is directly linked to society’s progress. This interplay is aptly demonstrated among corporate organisations that have identified the business case for driving attainment of the sustainable development goals, a collection of 17 interlinked global goals set in 2015 to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
The SDGs lay out a focal action framework for all, including the private sector and indicate the risks to sustained business growth. By way of illustration, the social security and safety that drive Economic Growth (SDG 8) are significantly threatened by Poverty (SDG 1), Inequality (SDG 10), and lack of Peace and Justice (SDG 16). Good health (SDG 3) is fundamental to staffing companies and having a healthy population that can afford products and services – as we say, ‘health is wealth.’ Education (SDG 4) is the bedrock of development as it is critical for the companies’ sustained success in the short, medium, and long-term. More holistically, advancing the SDGs leads to co-creation of shared value for all stakeholders, including the private sector. Moreover, tackling NTDs specifically (Target 3 of SDG 3) has been empirically shown to drive economic growth and improve education and economic outcomes. Therefore, it is critical that the private sector drive and galvanise action around this cause.
From government to chiefs, local communities, civil society, and the private sector, it has become evident that cross-sector collaboration is the way forward when it comes to achieving the WHO 2030 road map targets. Joint efforts across sectors are instrumental to ending NTDs in Nigeria. In addition to public sector participation, private organisations can drive forward the fight to end NTDs by integrating Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programmes into corporate social responsibility and philanthropic initiatives in the social mobilisation of communities. There are also significant synergies to be realised in tackling NTDs by collaborating with initiatives focused on malaria prevention and control, due to a common vector- the mosquito. All these efforts can be a crucial complement to the efforts of the government, community leaders, and educators in providing access to not just the right information, but also drugs and other tools that are needed for Nigeria to end NTDs once and for all.
Oduyemi is the Director, Public Affairs at the END Fund
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