Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization

If we are serious about universal health coverage, we must intensify our efforts and our commitment to control, eliminate or eradicate these diseases by 2020.

The story of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is one of great progress and remaining challenges. Five years ago, the world committed itself to accelerating the control, elimination and eradication of 10 NTDs by 2020. Since then, tremendous success stories have emerged.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently validated 10 countries in which lymphatic filariasis is no longer a public health problem: Cambodia, the Cook Islands, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Niue, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga and Vanuatu; Togo leads sub-Saharan Africa in achieving this milestone. Four countries – Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico – have been verified as ‘onchocerciasis-free’. Trachoma has been eliminated as a public health problem in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mexico, Morocco and Oman. Human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) is on track for elimination as a public health problem and dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease) is poised for eradication. These are only some of the tremendous accomplishments that we can celebrate.

Many factors underpin this success. Two elements are particularly relevant to continued progress, not only in defeating NTDs but also to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From the beginning, the movement to end NTDs has been defined by partnerships and collaboration among a wide range of stakeholders – governments, donors, civil society, the private sector and academia. In this SDG era, such partnerships must be promoted and used as a model because the SDGs challenge us to work not only across sectors but also across stakeholder groups.

The second element is country and regional ownership. One of the main reasons for the important progress on NTDs is that countries have translated international targets into national goals and strategies, with the support of the international community. We have seen over the years that country ownership is essential if we are to deliver tangible results at scale.

Despite these successes, it is important to recognize that significant work remains. Still, millions of people around the world are debilitated by NTDs. If we are serious about universal health coverage, we must intensify our efforts and our commitment to control, eliminate or eradicate these diseases by 2020.

Partnerships and country ownership will continue to be critical, and efforts to address NTDs must be built into strengthened health systems and universal health coverage.

In that spirit, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Uniting to Combat NTDs for being a partner in the efforts of health ministries and other implementing partners and stakeholders to reach the poorest and most vulnerable people on our planet. The work of all stakeholders in supporting WHO is vital and has the potential to transform millions of lives.

I wish you a very happy fifth anniversary of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, and I look forward to our continued collaboration in achieving universal health coverage.

This is part of Reaching a Billion, the fifth progress report of the London Declaration on NTDs. Read the full report.