The Ministry of Health Monday held a preparatory meeting of the Kigali Summit on Malaria and NTDs that will take place on the sidelines of the 26th Commonwealth Head of Government (CHOGM) meeting to be held in June this year. Diseases like elephantiasis that affect lower limbs and cause severe swelling of feet might sound familiar especially in rural areas. It is one of twenty diseases that were identified as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) that affect 1.7 billion people in 149 countries worldwide every year. During the occasion to announce the summit in Kigali, a six-month campaign dubbed “Zero Malaria starts with me” to fight against malaria was also launched at the same time. The campaign will compile different treatment and preventive activities across the country. Rwanda is the 13th country in Africa to carry out the campaign. The summit will be the first-ever global gathering to uniquely discuss Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. It will be reviewing the 2012 roadmap of the fight against Malaria and NTDs that was the first-ever strategic plan to end NTDs in response to the London declaration of NTDs. Another decade-long roadmap to eliminate Malaria and NTDs by 2030 will also be laid. The Minister of Health, Dr. Diane Gashumba informed the participants that Rwanda has made drastic improvements to curb Malaria and NTDs and that she hopes for Rwanda to be validated as an NTD-free country in the coming years. “Control and total rejection of malaria and NTDs is essential to socio-economic transformation. Those diseases are preventable, treatable and curable. The incredible progress against Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases is proof of what can be done,” she says. Ms Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Director of Uniting to Combat NTDs explained her prospects of the summit: “2020 will be a monumental year to set the global agenda against NTDs. It starts in Kigali and I hope that by the end of this year we can truly say we have secured the necessary political will and leadership to ensure that these diseases can no longer be neglected.” The summit will also call on world leaders to meet the CHOGM 2018 pledge to halve malaria by 2023 and deliver the political and financial commitments of $1.5 billion to end the scourge of neglected tropical diseases. Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, Chief Executive Officer of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, one of the two major disease coalitions supporting the Summit, said: “Commonwealth countries make up over half of all malaria cases and deaths globally. The Kigali Summit will be a crucial moment for leaders to take stock of the progress countries are making towards delivering on the Commonwealth leaders’ commitment made in London two years ago to halve malaria by 2023. He added that there are 650,000 lives dependent on the achievement of this commitment and that it is vital to the global elimination targets set for 2030. We will be urging leaders from across the Commonwealth, and beyond, to accelerate action to reach zero malaria.” Neglected Tropical Diseases explained Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of debilitating infectious diseases that can disable, disfigure and sometimes kill. The WHO identifies 20 NTDs but indicates that 10 needs more essential requirements for immediate assistance. NTDs are identified as inequality diseases because they affect women and children in countries where healthcare, adequate sanitation and clean water are limited. Some of NTDs that can be found in Rwanda are: Elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis) - A mosquito-transmitted disease that causes fever, severe swelling of the lower limbs and, in men, swelling of the scrotum. It is disfiguring and can lead to stigma. It is one of the world’s leading causes of disability. Intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths) - Infection can cause anaemia, malnutrition and stunted growth. They are spread by poor sanitary conditions and transmitted by contaminated soil and water. Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) - A parasitic infection spread by freshwater snails. Poor hygiene and swimming make children particularly vulnerable. The infection causes malnutrition, impaired intellectual development & chronic disease later in life, one of which is female genital schistosomiasis that can triple the risk of HIV. Sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) – Has not been there for many years but had threatened some parts of the country in the early 1990s. It is caused by parasitic disease transmitted to humans through the bites of infected tsetse flies. The parasites invade the central nervous system and brain, leading to confusion, behaviour changes, poor coordination and sleep disturbances. Without treatment it is fatal.