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Ending neglected tropical diseases to foster a more inclusive society

Authors: Kimberly Kamara, Associate Vice President, Programs; and Tegan Mosugu, Associate Director, Public Affairs

A world free of parasitic, bacterial, and viral infections is within reach as long as cross-sector stakeholders are able to rally together to achieve national and global targets aimed at eliminating the scourge of these diseases. In creating such a desirable future, it is critical that an integrated approach is used to treat people so that nobody is left behind and those with the greatest need are served.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) – intestinal worms, bilharzia (schistosomiasis), trachoma, etc – are a group of parasitic, bacterial and viral infections that affect more than 1.7 billion people, globally. Approximately, 40% of the global burden can be found in Africa alone, and the countries with the highest burden of NTDs  are the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, and Ethiopia. One of the most effective ways to control and eliminate the five most prevalent NTDs is through mass drug administration (MDA) to the entire population in affected areas.

Mass Drug Administration

         In an effort to interrupt the transmission cycle of these infections, children and adults are dewormed during MDA campaigns. Organizations like the END Fund – the only private philanthropic initiative  dedicated solely to ending the five most prevalent NTDs – can deworm children for as little as $0.50 per child per year. As a result of these NTD treatments, children are able to attend school, and adults are able to participate in the workforce. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, communities can also benefit from the integration of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) messages in MDA activities. Such an integrated approach fosters positive behavior change – washing hands with clean soap and water – which in turn reduces an individual’s susceptibility to NTDs.

Flagship Fund

The Flagship Fund is an important initiative housed within the END Fund. The Flagship Fund uses an integrated approach to treatment aiming to ensure that no population is left behind. The Flagship Fund focuses on providing access to treatment to individuals with the greatest need or those living in countries with the greatest burden of disease. Our ultimate goal is to reach elimination of these diseases, so no one suffers needlessly from NTDs.

DRC: A country in the Flagship Fund

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has a population of approximately 85 million people and is approximately the size of Western Europe. The country has 26 provinces and 519 health zones. The DRC has suffered from several bouts of  civil instability and violence. Nevertheless, the nation’s current focus is on rebuilding from a period of major civil instability and violence. Most recently, the country suffered from two Ebola outbreaks. Despite these challenges, there is strong government support for the NTD program and the DRC NTD program drives the planning and implementation of the annual activities to reach control and elimination goals.

Ameliorating the quality of life through cross-sector collaboration

The END Fund and its implementing partners, CBM and UFAR, support the government efforts to conduct MDA campaigns. These campaigns involve community health workers delivering NTD treatments from door to door, which in turn leads to interruption of  the transmission of parasitic worm infections. Since 2014, the END Fund has supported the administration of more than 150 million treatments to the populations at risk across 185 health districts as a means to prevent river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2019, mass drug administration in DRC began in December and activities continued until mid-March when activities were interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the remaining areas in need of treatment in DRC were able to restart activities and complete the round of treatments by July 2020 with surveillance and safety measures in place. For the next round of NTD activities, the END Fund and other partners supporting activities in the country worked in collaboration with the DRC NTD program to develop and agree on guidelines for safe implementation of NTD activities.

Moving the needle forward to end NTDs

With each year of our support, the DRC gets closer to reaching NTD control and elimination goals. Nonetheless, there is still more work that needs to be done in order to ensure that NTDs continue to be prioritized on the local and national agenda, so that the World Health Organization (WHO) targets can be achieved. With the launch of the WHO 2030 NTD Roadmap, it is important that initiatives – such as the END Fund’s Flagship Fund – are positioned to end the neglect of people living with these infections. In order to achieve control and elimination goals, a multi-sectoral approach is needed to not only mobilize resources, but to also galvanize cross-sector stakeholders to take action towards ending NTDs.

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