African countries with lower national incomes are outperforming some richer nations on the continent in the fight against diseases of poverty known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), according to a new league table ranking.

NTDs such as blinding trachoma, the leading cause of infectious blindness, or intestinal worms that can stunt growth in children, are endemic in poor communities without access to clean water and with inadequate sewerage systems. The diseases affect 1.6 billion people worldwide – that’s one in five on the planet – including over 600 million people in Africa.

The league table ranks the countries according to their performance in reaching everyone in need with the necessary treatment, across the five most common NTDs in Africa that are amenable to mass treatment. The countries treating the highest proportion of those in need across all five diseases rank highest in the table.

The table shows that three countries with modest national incomes – Malawi, Sierra Leone and Togo – have, for the third year running, reported high treatment levels to those in need across the five diseases.  The WHO reckons that if countries consistently treat and protect more than 75% of people needing care, across the five diseases, they are on track to beating the diseases. Malawi, Sierra Leone and Togo all reached the 75% average target.

All three nations are in the ‘lower income’ bracket of the UN Human Development Index, a broad measure of national wealth.

We have compiled a league table showing how well countries are doing in the fight against NTDs.

For more information on the table, click here.

Table includes all countries in Africa which are endemic for at least one of the five neglected tropical diseases.

“In 2018 we became the first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate blinding trachoma. A painful and disabling disease. We  cannot achieve the SDGs without addressing the needs of the poorest members of our society who are disproportionately affected by neglected tropical diseases. I urge my fellow African leaders to prioritise ending these diseases of poverty on the continent. We  have shown that it can be done.”

His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana

Call to the African Union

Establish a task force on NTDs at the African Union

The goal of the Africa Health Strategy (AHS) 2016–2030 is to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being for all in Africa, in the context of ‘Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want’ and the SDGs. Increasing investments in health and reducing the burden of disease are key objectives in the AHS. Seeking to end NTDs is seen as a priority to achieve the strategy.

This task force will facilitate knowledge sharing across the continent, whilst ensuring that drug commitments from pharmaceutical companies are fully utilised every year and that global elimination targets are met.

Set a specific target for Africa towards WHO’s goal of eliminating at least one NTD in 30 countries

194 member states have agreed to WHO’s 5-year strategic plan. This sets a target to eliminate at least one NTD in 30 countries between 2019 and 2023, globally. The African Union can show leadership and support SDG 3.3 by setting a specific target for Africa towards this global goal, which can be resourced and monitored.

Commit African Union member states to provide domestic health financing towards their NTD programmes

NTD treatment and prevention is highly cost-effective. The most common NTDs can be mass treated at a cost of less than US$0.50 per person, per treatment.

Most drugs required for NTD treatment are donated by the pharmaceutical industry. This generous support is valued at US$17.8 billion to 2020, and was recognized with a Guinness World Record in January 2017. Yet not everyone who needs treatment receives it. For every US$1 invested in delivery, US$26 of drugs are donated.

Recognize and celebrate countries as they achieve elimination goals

A number of countries have demonstrated that eliminating NTDs is not just a pipe dream.

  • Ghana is the latest country in Africa to have achieved elimination of trachoma as a public health problem, joining Morocco, which was validated in 2016
  • Togo and Egypt have been validated by WHO as having eliminated elephantiasis as a public health problem, the only two countries on the continent to have achieved this goal
  • Kenya was validated by WHO for the elimination of Guinea worm disease, joining Cote D’Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria and Ghana