Huffpost UK uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Simon Bush Headshot

Keeping Score: Can the NTD Scorecard Keep Global Action Against These Diseases on Track?

Posted: Updated:

This week sees the publication of From Promises to Progress, a new report on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), a group of 17 infectious diseases that between them affect over 1.4 billion of the poorest people in the world.

The report sets out global progress to tackle NTDs since the London Declaration was signed a year ago. The London Declaration saw the pharmaceutical industry, governments, the World Health Organization, NGOs and donors commit to control or eliminate ten NTDs by 2020.

The London Declaration was a landmark in my work on NTDs. When I first started working on NTDs 13 years ago, I never would have imagined progress like this. Elimination of NTDs such as river blindness (onchocerciasis) and blinding trachoma seemed such a long way off. How things have changed.

When this aspirational vision becomes reality, it will make a colossal difference to the lives of over a billion people who are affected by NTDs.

For example, the NTD trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness, which particularly affects women and children living in poverty and where there's a lack of water and sanitation. Trachoma is a bacterial infection that causes repeated conjunctivitis. Each infection causes scarring on the inside of the eyelid. This scarring eventually makes the eyelid turn inwards, known as trichiasis. Each time the eyelashes are lowered to blink, they scrape against the surface of the eyeball which causes intense pain. If left untreated, it eventually leads to irreversible blindness.

I've seen first-hand in Sudan the impact that trachoma has on people's lives. I have also seen a positive story - that through partnerships with NGOs like Sightsavers and the Carter Centre working with health authorities, Sudan is on track to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2015.

Millions of people live in areas endemic with trachoma. Yet, as with so many NTDs, it's preventable. By treating with surgery, donated antibiotics from Pfizer, encouraging face washing and environmental hygiene (known as the SAFE strategy) whole communities can be protected from trachoma.

But with so many varied players involved in this ambitious task, one year on from the commitments made in London, how do we make sure promises are turned into action?

To keep things on track, the London Declaration partners have developed an NTD Scorecard, published alongside the new report. The Scorecard sets out the top-level milestones that are crucial if we're going to see real action on these ten NTDs - in terms of raising funds, conducting research and development, and ultimately delivering the right number of treatments, to the right people, in the right places. It's all about achieving the scale-up needed.

The Scorecard tracks commitments made by all these different partners in the fight against NTDs. But more importantly, it will help reveal where the gaps are.

By pulling data together in one place, this Scorecard will show which diseases are not receiving enough funding or attention, and which endemic countries are facing extra hurdles and struggling to keep up. The NTD community will then be able to quickly identify what additional support is needed to help each country achieve its NTD goals. Simple.

Or maybe not. The Scorecard does have its challenges, the biggest of which will be keeping the data up-to-date. This will depend on all partners being willing to share information with each other. This isn't an easy ask, because many of these organisations don't traditionally collaborate.

But in fighting NTDs they do. It's not often you see competing pharmaceutical companies, donors and NGOs working together and coordinating efforts for the same cause. The partnerships developed over many years will, I hope, put us in good stead for real progress in 2013.

One of the first steps this year will be to roll-out mapping of those diseases where we don't have a full picture of the scale of the problem. For example, Sightsavers is leading a consortium of organisations to map trachoma, funded by the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID). Trachoma is already known to affect more than 21 million people but it's estimated that an additional 180 million people worldwide live in areas where trachoma is highly prevalent. The survey will help us understand the challenge ahead and will allow for a massive scaling-up of treatments on the ground.

Game-changing success against NTDs can only happen with the collaboration of all sectors: governments, donors, industry and NGOs. Seeing the NTD community make this enormous effort to come together to achieve the scale-up in treatments required, gives me hope that we'll be able to rid the world of some of its worst diseases.