SCI Foundation is now Unlimit Health. Learn more about what the change means for our ongoing efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases
On International Day for the Eradication of Poverty we reflect on the importance of tackling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) as a critical step in ending poverty once and for all.
NTDs are known as diseases of poverty. They disproportionally affect the most vulnerable and marginalised people and populations, affecting over one billion people worldwide. The diseases are associated with inadequate housing, adverse environmental conditions such as poor water and sanitation services, and lack of access to healthcare services. People are exposed to NTDs due to their daily household needs and livelihood activities, as shown in this story from Ethiopia.
NTDs have a multidimensional relationship with poverty. Some, like leprosy and lymphatic filariasis, lead to disability and disfigurement, subjecting those affected to stigma and exclusion and affecting their mental health and livelihoods. Others, such as parasitic infections can cause long term health and educational outcomes, making it difficult to earn a living and limiting productivity in school and at work.
This year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched an ambitious plan for eliminating NTDs by 2030. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought immediate challenges to healthcare delivery globally, affecting key prevention and treatment programmes such as the highly beneficial and cost-effective mass drug administration. Surgeries for severe NTD-related morbidities were also halted, compounding the suffering and economic hardship already experienced by people affected.
This will no doubt have an impact on the achievement of milestones set by the 2021-2030 road map, but the pandemic also served to unearth the deep inequalities affecting societies worldwide. The perfect storm of global health insecurity, the climate crisis and the groundswell for addressing social inequities requires a different kind of action, that not only responds to poverty but addresses its underlying causes.
Soon after the pandemic was announced, SCI Foundation supported NTD programmes to update their procedures by revisiting their tried-and-tested training, drug distribution and survey methods. This determined what adaptations were needed to minimise contact where possible and ensure appropriate preventive measures were in place. Watch a video here.
Despite the challenges and thanks to the adaptability of our partners, SCIF was able to support 10 countries to complete MDA which had either been paused due to the onset of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to remain cautious. Mathematical modelling on several NTDs, including schistosomiasis (SCH), soil-transmitted helminthiases (STH), shows that the impact of the COVID disruption will vary across the diseases. But SCH, STH, and trachoma are likely to encounter faster resurgence.
A mother washes her child in the Bedessa River in Wolaita Zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), Ethiopia. Wading in the river puts mother and child at risk of contracting schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, but there is no alternative for her. Credit: SCI Foundation/I. Getachew
As an organisation working to strengthen health systems in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, on International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we highlight our commitments to create a healthier and more equitable world. This means working through advocacy and policy influencing to challenge inequity and strive towards a fair distribution of power and resources globally.
Given that ill health, and particularly the burden of NTDs, is rooted in social and economic inequity and injustice, we know that we must challenge the power imbalance inherent in development aid funding relationships, champion country ownership and operate a true partnership with Ministries of Health.
As an organisation dedicated to addressing diseases of poverty, we know that we also have a role to play in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation through responsible action.
Reducing the burden of poverty-related diseases such as NTDs will serve as an indicator of whether or not the world is on track to eradicate poverty.