World NTD Day 2021
Tomorrow we will mark the second-ever World NTD Day – a day to recognize the substantial progress made to address 20 of the world’s neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and help sustain momentum in the fight to defeat them. These diseases affect the world’s most impoverished communities, with devastating impacts on lives and livelihoods.
NTDs have of course not escaped the immense disruption caused by COVID-19. Yet 2021 began on a positive note, as the elimination of sleeping sickness (also known as human African trypanosomiasis) is progressing well in a number of countries, including Cote d’Ivoire and Uganda, two of the countries in which we have been implementing Trypa-NO! with our partners. This is a huge milestone, and we warmly congratulate everyone who contributed to its achievement.
This year, the global health community is also celebrating the progress achieved under the first WHO NTD roadmap (2012–2020), which set global targets and milestones to prevent, control, eliminate or eradicate these diseases, as well as cross-cutting targets aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These efforts catalysed action and showed that investment in NTDs is one of the “best buys” in public health. Today, 500 million people no longer require interventions against several NTDs, and 42 countries, territories and areas have eliminated at least one NTD.
However, the job is far from finished. Following an open consultation process, yesterday WHO and partners formally launched a new NTD roadmap (2021–2030), identifying the remaining critical gaps and the actions required to close them. A key message emerged: diagnostics are crucial to defeating NTDs.
To accompany the roadmap launch, Mwelecele Malecela and Camilla Ducker published an article highlighting that “individual diagnostic assays are only one piece of the larger monitoring and evaluation puzzle.” This is absolutely true. Disease surveillance allows us to detect and manage outbreaks, and diagnostic data provide epidemiology insights, as well as enabling quality assurance. Diagnostics are vital to achieve the goals set out in the NTD roadmap, the SDGs – and universal health coverage (UHC).
Our NTD team contributes to the newly formed WHO Diagnostics Technical Advisory Group (DTAG), part of whose purpose it is to define gaps, coordinate the development of target product profiles for priority use cases and make those readily available to all; we then work together with our partners to make those tools a reality. Our forthcoming strategy (currently open for consultation) includes our own roadmaps for each of our disease areas at FIND – for NTDs we are drawing on our work with the DTAG and a key area of focus is centralizing information to provide a clear vision on the diagnostic tools and strategies needed to reach the 2030 targets.
There’s a lot to be done, and it needs engagement with multiple stakeholders, including policy makers and donors. But we at FIND join Dr Tedros and Dr Mwele in “pledging to change lives for good” and #BeatNTDs.
I cannot close without mentioning another very important milestone that happened this week: the launch of the third edition of the WHO Essential Diagnostics List. This update includes, for the first time, tests that should not be supplied in countries, either because they are not cost-effective, are unreliable or have been surpassed by newer, easier to use technologies.
On every front, it is heartening to see the value of testing increasingly acknowledged – as key to defeating NTDs, achieving UHC and safeguarding global health security.