Africa needs stronger commitment from both public and private sectors to tackle Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) on the continent, First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said.
Mrs Kagame made the remarks, yesterday, at a World Economic Forum-sanctioned event convened by the END Fund on ending neglected tropical diseases on the continent.
The event intended to shade more light on the continent’s health issues, and particularly called for increased investments in NTD control in sub-Saharan Africa.
The event was attended by Her Royal Highness the Queen of Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, Sylvia Nagginda; the Chief Executive of the END Fund, Ellen Agler; the Minister for Health, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, among other officials and health experts.
A study conducted by Erasmus University, and released at the End Fund event, indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa could save up to $52 billion by 2030 if the region meets the World Health Organisation’s 2020 control and eliminations target for the five most common neglected tropical diseases, such as Elephantiasis, River blindness, Bilharzia, Intestinal worms and Trachoma.
The study was conducted with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Mrs Kagame said this kind of events bring more light to some of the health issues still affecting the region, calling for stronger partnerships in bringing an end to the NTDs.
“In a world fast evolving and creating new solutions to various health, environmental, socio-economic problems, while connecting people through technology, it comes as a sad irony that such a large population of our planet still struggles with diseases that should have been eradicated a long time ago,” the First Lady said.
Figures indicate that 1.6 billion people have had at least one tropical disease, while 500,000 die each year from complications linked to the diseases.
Mrs Kagame said “the figures of the number of people affected worldwide each year, by these various tropical diseases are indeed alarming.”
“I believe that, for our communities to pave the way to a future free from these health issues, we must continue educating our populations on how to protect themselves, but also further invest in strengthening institutions for more efficient health care systems, able to respond rapidly to this kind of crises,” she said.
Discussing the role of traditional and cultural institutions to end NTDs, Queen Nagginda said NDTs have been recognised as a health challenge “yet little attention have been paid to this challenge.”
She said NTDs are mostly found along the Rift Valley side of Uganda and urged cultural leaders to be part of the campaign to end the diseases.
“Cultural institutions have a role to play in fighting NTDs through partnering with health institutions to promote healthcare programmes. Cultural leaders have the ability to mobilise, modernise communities towards health care and development matters,”
Through her Nnabagereka Foundation, the Queen of Buganda has been involved in several health advocacy and women empowerment efforts in Buganda region in central Uganda.
On Rwanda’s case, according to the Ministry of Health, there were no large scale NTDs control efforts in place and data on the burden of the diseases until 2007.
However, over the last eight years, the Government, with support of partners such as The End Fund, has taken steps to reduce the burden of NTDs.
Dr Binagwaho said Government has since mapped the prevalence of intestinal worms, bilharzia, elephantiasis and Trachoma, adding that it is now “implementing a comprehensive approach to improve hygiene, mass drug administration, among other NTDS case management campaigns.”
“The Government has tripled the budget to curb NTDs in the last three years, and it seeks to double the budget in the next two years,” she said.
End Fund’s Agler said NTDs control efforts “offer a return on investment unparalleled in global health.”
“Ending these debilitating diseases will help reduce poverty at all levels,” Agler said.
Mrs Kagame said, over time, Rwanda has seen a decrease in the number of people affected by these infections and the country now considers only two of the five NTDs to be a public health problem.
“I trust that such a conversation, will help create a stronger sense of our shared responsibility in fighting these diseases, while implementing strategies that can significantly empower our communities to fully thrive, to live the kind of dignified lives, we all so rightfully deserve, irrespective of our cultural or economic backgrounds.”