Fighting neglected diseases ‘means uplifting livelihoods’

Wednesday April 19 2017

A specialist examines an old man’s eye to find

A specialist examines an old man’s eye to find out what he is suffering from. Some neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma and river blindness affect eyes and in some cases result in blindness. PHOTO | FILE 

By Syriacus Buguzi @buguzi sbuguzi@tz.nationmedia.com

Geneva. Here in Geneva, a child is depicted in a statue leading a blind man, who is affected by river blindness—one of Tanzania’s five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Other NTDs being trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, sleeping sickness, soil-transmitted worms and leprosy.

For Ms Mary Ann Peters, one of the leaders in the global campaign against the NTDs, the statue, which is located in front of the World Health Organisation’s Headquarters, appears to portray a sense of love between the blind man and the child. But beyond love for one another, Ms Peters says, the deeper meaning of the statue could point to dire economic consequences created by river blindness to men and children—especially in Africa, including Tanzania.

“The statue also means a man, who can’t farm and a child, who can’t go to school,’’ says Chief Executive Officer of The Carter Centre, one of the non-governmental organisations participating in a global campaign to eradicate NTDs.

That’s why she believes efforts to eliminate NTDs, such as river blindness, trachoma and lymphatic filariasis, which are highly prevalent in Tanzania and other countries, should now focus on uplifting the poor from the disease menace.

She is one of the several dignitaries, who are convening in Geneva at a five-day summit to pledge commitments to eliminating the diseases. Governments and donors have pledged $812 million to prevent NTDs in nearly a billion people each year across the world.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced Sh1.2trillion (£450 million) support for over 200 million people in countries plagued by the NTDs.

For Tanzania, to get rid of NTDs, it needs to set right priorities. Dr Sue Desmond—Hellman, the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says the story of NTD control should not just be left to the Ministry of Health. “It should be a matter of involving the ministry of Finance and Planning,’’ she told The Citizen on the sidelines of the summit in Geneva, as he referred to the multi-sectorial support that required in dealing with the diseases in Tanzania and beyond. “NTDs are diseases that affect the poor and underprivileged communities. It requires heavy investment and political commitment not just for Tanzania, but also many other countries affected,’’ said Dr Desmond—Hellman.

Tanzania is endemic to all five of the most common NTDs, with a large part of the population at risk for co-infection of two or more diseases, says a report issued by End Fund—an NGO dealing with NTDs in Tanzania. In 2009, Tanzania adopted the WHO initiative to integrate the implementation of activities of NTD and established a national NTD programme, but more is still needed to eliminate the public health menace.

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