World to miss some targets on neglected diseases affecting 1 billion people: WHO chief

World to miss some targets on neglected diseases affecting 1 billion people: WHO chief

By Binsal Abdulkader

ABU DHABI, 18th November 2019, (WAM) -- Although many impressive results have been achieved in controlling Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, affecting more than 1 billion people in 149 countries, the world is still going to miss some further targets in this regard, according to a top official.

"NTDs [a diverse group of communicable diseases such as dengue, rabies, and leprosy etc.] mostly affect the poorest and most marginalised communities of the world, causing immense suffering, but we are making progress towards the sustainable elimination of many of these diseases," Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, said in an interview with the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

"Today, 500 million fewer people than in 2010 need interventions against NTDs and more than 40 countries, territories and areas have eliminated at least one disease. Despite all these impressive results, we are still going to miss some of the ambitious targets in our current NTDs Roadmap," he said in the interview ahead of his participation in the Reaching the Last Mile, RLM, Forum in Abu Dhabi, which would take place on Tuesday at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The biennial invitation-only Forum convenes global health leaders to share insights and best practices on how to map out, eliminate and eradicate infectious diseases.

The event is held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Forum is inspired by the conviction of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed that no person should needlessly suffer or die from a preventable disease and that investment in health is crucial to global development.

There will be several major announcements regarding Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, in the Forum.

"We have now developed a new NTD Roadmap for 2021-2030, which encourages a fundamental shift from a disease-specific approach to integrated approaches in the context of universal health coverage," the WHO chief revealed.

"The Forum can support us as we develop new tools and innovate to accelerate progress. We also need to be able to work with global partners to defeat these diseases in a unified and cost-effective manner," the Director-General pointed out.

According to the WHO, some tropical diseases are called ‘neglected,’ because the people who are most affected by these diseases are often the poorest populations, living in remote, rural areas, urban slums or conflict zones.

About frontline health workers in the field of disease elimination who will be recognised by the biennial REACH (Recognising Excellence Around Champions of Health) Awards at the RLM Forum, the WHO chief said: "They are the true heroes of any public health effort.

"They are the ones who literally go the extra mile, often in dangerous and difficult conditions, to protect some of the most vulnerable populations around the world against the world’s deadliest diseases," he said.

However, the world is currently facing a shortfall of 18 million health workers needed to achieve and sustain universal health coverage by 2030. About half of that number is nurses and midwives, Dr. Ghebreyesus revealed.

That is why next year has been designated the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, to highlight the vital role they play, and to work with countries to train more nurses and midwives, he said.

As the Forum will have a session presenting the findings of the Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication, he pointed out that WHO had embraced the goal of malaria eradication for more than 60 years.

"I would be thrilled to see malaria eradicated by 2050, or earlier. But to achieve that goal, malaria-affected countries and their global development partners will need to step up their game," the WHO chief suggested.

The RLM Forum is also a good opportunity to share experiences and learn about which technologies hold the most promise, as "advances in science and technology are opening up new horizons in public health that were considered science fiction not so very long ago," Dr Ghebreyesus said.