WHO AFRO launches new project to help African countries control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases

Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases will strengthen national programmes and help secure sustainable financing to combat diseases of poverty

GENEVA, 23 May 2016 – The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) today launched a major new partnership to help African countries reduce the burden of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

The Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN) will provide national NTD programmes with technical and fundraising support to help them control and eliminate the five NTDs with the greatest burden on the continent, which collectively affect hundreds of millions of people.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said: “We’re excited to launch ESPEN to scale up the work against these terrible diseases. We know what needs to be done to beat NTDs; ESPEN will make sure national NTD programmes have the data, expertise and financial resources they need to accelerate the fight against these diseases.”

NTDs are a group of diseases that place a constant and heavy burden primarily on the poorest, most marginalized and isolated communities in the world. Forty percent of the global burden of NTDs is in Africa, where these diseases destroy lives, prevent children from going to school, and keep communities in cycles of poverty. A study by Erasmus University projects that reaching WHO’s 2020 goals for these diseases would generate an estimated $565 billion in productivity gains by 2030.

Many of the tools necessary to control and eliminate NTDs already exist, and the drugs necessary to treat and prevent these diseases are donated by pharmaceutical companies – in 2015 alone, 1.5 billion NTD treatments were donated, largely to African countries. ESPEN will help provide African countries with the technical and financial capacity to use these tools and reach every community in need.

Hon. Prof. Isaac Folorunsho Adewole, Federal Minister of Health, Nigeria, said: “To beat NTDs, we need the right tools and data to help us get treatments to the people who need them. This special project will help governments across Africa provide a healthier future for our people.”

ESPEN will run from 2016 to 2020, and is designed to continue momentum toward the control and elimination targets established by the World Health Organization and endorsed in the London Declaration on NTDs in January 2012. In 2014, two dozen African countries committed to strengthen their commitment to NTDs under the Addis Ababa Commitment on NTDs.

The launch of ESPEN took place at an event on the side lines of the 69th Annual World Health Assembly in Geneva. Speakers included:

  • Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General, WHO
  • Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa, WHO
  • Hon. Prof. Isaac Folorunsho Adewole, Federal Minister of Health, Nigeria
  • Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet (moderator)
  • Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID
  • Mr. Ken Gustavsen, Executive Director, Corporate Responsibility, MSD
  • Dr. Nasser B. Alrifai, Technical Advisor, The Kuwait Fund
  • Dr. Mwele Ntuli Malecela, Chair, Regional Programme Review Group (RPRG) for NTDs

Mr. Ken Gustavsen, Executive Director, Corporate Responsibility at MSD, said: “Significant progress has been made over the past three decades in reaching communities affected by NTDs, and now we’re on the cusp of controlling and potentially eliminating many of these diseases. ESPEN will help us get to that finish line across the African continent.”

The project will be hosted and managed by WHO AFRO in partnership with African governments, donors, non-governmental organizations, and pharmaceutical companies ensuring a coordinated response to fight these diseases.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is announcing today a US$4m commitment to support ESPEN. USAID joins the Kuwait Fund, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the END Fund, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, MSD, Sightsavers, and other organizations, which are together providing a cumulative US$11.4 million in seed funding. Ultimately, in order to sustain these investments and recent progress, greater financial and political commitment from African governments will be necessary to ensure that these five diseases are controlled and eventually eliminated.

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID said: “The fight against these disabling diseases is a global health best-buy. ESPEN will help countries accelerate progress against these debilitating diseases and, potentially, unlock increasing domestic resources to reach vulnerable populations. This partnership and other NTD efforts will help end diseases of extreme poverty in this generation.”

ESPEN has been established following the closure of the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), which during its 20-year mandate made a major contribution to the reduction in onchocerciasis (river blindness) in Africa. The special project will maintain the gains made over the past two decades by integrating this approach across five diseases: onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths and trachoma.

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