11/06/2015 13:58 BST | Updated 11/06/2016 06:59 BST

Is This a Turning Point for Neglected Tropical Diseases?


Following swiftly on the heels of the top billing neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) received at the recent World Health Assembly from both Margaret Chan and Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was great to see NTDs given further spotlight at this week's G7 Meeting in Germany.

The result of this high level commitment is the G7 leaders signing a landmark pledge re-committing to tackle this group of diseases which affect over one billion of the world's poorest people.

For me the words that resonated most are those of Chancellor Merkel who declared 'health is a human right'. She is right.

The promise focuses on research, which is critical to the control and elimination of many of the 17 NTDs, which cause long-term morbidity, impact hugely on the economic productivity of individuals and communities, and can lead to long-term stigma and discrimination. It's a welcome step, and I hope it signifies the start of an ambition to deliver concrete and sufficient financing commitments for health systems strengthening at the upcoming Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July. Research is needed, but for many of the NTDs the solutions are known and what is needed now is sustainable and predictable financing for the delivery of control or in some cases elimination programmes, within the health system, to help wipe out these terrible diseases of poverty.

The signs are good, and recognising that many countries need support and increased investment to deliver health services, G7 leaders have called for the establishment of robust health systems. This will require the commitment of the international community but also the action of national developing country governments to prioritise expenditure on health within their domestic financing decision-making. If coupled with the hoped for increase in private sector contributions to development financing, this would provide the predictable financing mix needed for countries to eliminate or control these diseases and protect 1 billion of the poorest people on the planet.

Many of the NTDs, such as river blindness and trachoma, are straightforward to prevent or treat, with mass drug administration of medicines provided free by the pharmaceutical industry being particularly cost-effective. However, they have been rarely prioritised in global health spending - whether in foreign aid budgets or in the spending plans of Ministries of Health in endemic countries.

2015 may be a turning point and at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development meeting in Addis Ababa, we'll be looking for governments to commit to financing a comprehensive and ambitious post-2015 framework, ahead of the September UNGA summit.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed at the UNGA Summit in September present a once-in-a-generation chance to reframe NTDs within a more mainstream approach to health and development.

We are calling for a post-2015 framework that is supported by ambitious financing commitments and mechanisms that will ensure those most affected by poverty, such as those living in communities at risk from NTDs, have dramatically improved access to basic services (health, education, water, sanitation and social protection), employment and livelihoods prospects and enjoy their political and civic rights.

Specifically this requires time-bound commitments from developed countries for achieving the long-standing pledge to allocate 0.7% of GNI to ODA; dramatic increases in the scale of domestic public resources available to deliver essential services such as health; and an appropriate balance between international public, international private, domestic public and domestic private sector finance. The news from Finland that the government plans to cut its ODA budget by 43% sends a disastrous message at a critical stage of this process.

If the world takes the opportunity presented by the discussions in Addis Ababa and New York over the next four months, there is an opportunity to eliminate or control these diseases within a generation. If not, we condemn future generations of communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America to living in the shadow of 17 preventable, curable or controllable diseases that belong to the 19th, not the 21st Century.