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Opinion: We must not lose momentum against neglected tropical diseases

By Thoko Elphick-Pooley

23 June 2023


It is a year since global leaders gathered in Rwanda, on the eve of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to commit to ending malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) at the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases and to launch the Kigali Declaration on NTDs.


Hosted by His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, the Summit brought together Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Founders, CEOs, singers, writers, and leaders of institutions, including industry, civil society and private philanthropy. It injected new energy in the fight against NTDs – diseases of poverty, affecting over one billion people that continue to be left behind.


In Kigali, speaker after speaker took the floor to commit to ending NTDs and to endorse the Kigali Declaration on NTDs – a high level political tool, designed to galvanise political will and mobilise resources to deliver the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) and WHO NTD road map 2030 goals. Over $1.5 billion was mobilised and 19 billion worth of donated treatments committed by pharmaceutical companies. 62 entities, including 13 endemic countries, have endorsed the Kigali Declaration on NTDs.

official photo from the Kigali Summit

Frank Axel Nyabagabo

These investments yield the greatest return of any investment in global health - estimated at $26 for every $1 dollar invested. They also deliver tangible, measurable, and verifiable impact for people and countries. Take progress in NTD elimination for example. In 2022 alone, eight countries eliminated an NTD and Togo became the first country globally to eliminate four of these diseases. Just last month, Mali, Bangladesh and Benin eliminated trachoma, a leading cause of infectious blindness that mostly affects poor, rural areas. Now, 49 countries have eliminated an NTD.

However, despite these gains, the world remains off-track on the targets set out in the WHO NTD road map and in the SDGs, where the goal is to reduce by 90%, the number of people requiring an intervention against an NTD by 2030. That means a reduction from 1.65 billion people requiring an intervention against an NTD today, to just 200 million in 2030! With seven years to go before 2030, we are only at 28% reduction.

Persistent under funding of NTDs, exacerbated by global shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation rates, and a catastrophic debt burden facing low and middle-income countries, threatens the delivery of the promises made to some of the most vulnerable people on our planet.

As world leaders deliberate on a new financing pact for the SDGs and climate, we call upon them to deliver tangible solutions that will transform the lives of people and planet. To move beyond rhetoric to action.

We need new ways to finance our global goals. Our world has changed, and we need to rethink our approaches. The current global financial architecture is not fit for purpose, it is failing Africa and developing nations, and it will not achieve the SDGs. We need to create a system based on equity, fairness, and better representation. Equally, we need to explore novel ways to secure funding for health. We support calls to redesign the global health architecture, particularly given the multi-faceted and connected challenges that impact health including pandemic preparedness, climate change, and the quest for universal health coverage.

Whatever the future holds in terms of financing and structuring global health, we must ensure NTDs are part of it.

The case for action has never been stronger. Eliminating NTDs is a global public good with universal benefits, ranging from poverty reduction, sustainable development and economic prosperity. Investing in fighting ongoing epidemics – including NTDs, malaria, HIV, and TB – is also critical to strengthening the world’s capacity to prevent and respond to future pandemics. The scope and access of NTD programmes to some of the world’s poorest communities are a gateway to achieving UHC and can be a tracer for equity. Investments in NTD programmes expand access to health services to hard-to-reach populations and frees up capacity to address other health issues.

Most importantly, ridding the world of these preventable and treatable diseases improves people’s lives and it’s the right thing to do. What a good day for humanity it will be, when we can break the cycle of poverty caused by preventable and treatable diseases. The momentum against NTDs must not be lost!

Thoko Elphick-Pooley is the Executive Director of Uniting to Combat NTDs, a global advocacy organisation that exists to end NTDs by mobilising resources; a Goalkeepers Adviser, and Co-Chair of the G7 Taskforce on Global Health.