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The key towards a fairer and healthier world: Global solidarity and collaboration

7 April 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn the world’s attention to the value of global health. Not only has it highlighted the importance of the social determinants of health but it has also provided justification for how fundamental global solidarity and international collaboration are in keeping the world healthy and safe.


Yet while the pandemic and emerging infectious threats gather worldwide attention, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), together with other important health issues affecting mostly low- and middle-income groups, are often left behind. Additionally, recent cuts to overseas development assistance (ODA) allocations could push the attention of NTDs and broader health services further down the agenda and have negative implications for building a fairer and healthier world.

NTDs disproportionately affect low-income countries and marginalised communities

NTDs, a set of 20 diverse infections and conditions, affect one billion people globally. However, there is one common feature which unites them – they disproportionately affect low-income countries and marginalised communities without access to clean water or basic sanitation.

One such NTD is schistosomiasis, a waterborne parasitic worm infection most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, which affects those who rely on the use of infected surface water for their daily living needs. Without treatment, this disease can cause a range of moderate and severe health outcomes and can lead to economic hardship for many infected adults. Women and adolescent girls are particularly at risk since they can develop female genital schistosomiasis (FGS), a painful disease complication of schistosomiasis often resulting in infertility and stigma.

Lessons to draw from COVID-19 for prevention and reduction in transmission of NTDs

Woman washes hands at water’s edge. Credit: SCI Foundation

Woman washes hands at water’s edge. Credit: SCI Foundation

Lessons should be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic, not only for future pandemic preparedness, but to aid in preventing and/or reducing the transmission of NTDs. These include:

  • Access to clean water and sanitation – the pandemic has shed light on the need for an adequate supply of clean water to limit the spread of disease. For instance, COVID-19 pushed increased provision of emergency safe drinking water and hand washing facilities in some low-income settings
  • Increased attention on global health – the COVID-19 outbreak has affected everyone, everywhere. As a result, this has triggered information sharing across the world to raise awareness of the disease and how to keep safe

Health is a human right that should be enjoyed by everyone

During the pandemic, treatment for schistosomiasis and other NTDs was paused; however, regular treatment is vital to keep disease prevalence low. For this reason SCIF has been working with Ministries of Health to resume treatment for as quickly as possible and reach the people who need it most while following COVID-safe protocols.

The new WHO NTDs road map, which launched earlier this year, aims for a 90% reduction in people requiring interventions against NTDs and amongst other ambitious targets, a paradigm shift putting country ownership and financing at the heart of NTD programmes.

On World Health Day, SCIF reaffirms its commitment to make this goal a reality by continuing to support governments to implement their own plans for control and elimination of NTDs.

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