Report: Africa Could Save $52 Billion by 2030 by Ending Neglected Tropical Diseases

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In short
In a 2015 report titled Country Leadership and Collaboration on Neglected Tropical Diseases by Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, a collective of invested, interested and dedicated partners, working to fulfill the London Declaration on NTDs, said Uganda could save up to 9.1 trillion Shillings in the long term by investing in combating Neglected Tropical Diseases NTDs.

Sub-Saharan Africa could save 52 billion dollars by 2030 if the region meets the World Health Organization (WHO)'s 2020 control and elimination targets for the five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a report by Erasmus University has revealed. The report was released on Friday at the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF Africa) in Kigali, Rwanda.

The 52-billion-dollar saving is equivalent to 171,600,000,000,000 trillion Shillings, seven times the annual budget of Uganda. The report says meeting these goals could also help the region gain the equivalent of 100 million life-years that would otherwise be lost to ill health, disability and early death arising from these diseases.

These statistics, developed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, were released at a WEF Africa-sanctioned side event, convened by the END Fund to make the case for increased investments in NTD control in sub-Saharan Africa. NTDs are a diverse group of parasitic and bacterial infectious diseases that are particularly prevalent in areas with limited access to safe water, proper sanitation and adequate medical services.

NTDs cause severe pain, long-term disability, and are the cause of death for over 500,000 people per year. The NTDs are also described as "diseases of poverty that affect one in six people worldwide". The impact of NTDs on both health and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa is massive. Each year, these diseases cause disabilities and disfigurements for millions of African citizens. 

They also increase absenteeism in schools and dramatically reduce labor productivity, ultimately perpetuating cycles of poverty. The five most common NTDS in sub-Saharan Africa are: Elephantiasis, which is a parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes that affects the lymph nodes and often causes enlargement of body parts such as the limbs and genitals.
River blindness, which is a parasitic worm infection, transmitted through the bites of infected black flies, that causes massive damage to skin and eyes. Bilharzia, a parasitic disease carried by fresh water snails that can cause major damage to the urinary and digestive tracts;
Intestinal worms which cause intestinal infections and are most common in children and can cause serious physical, nutritional and cognitive impairments. Intestinal worms are the most common NTD worldwide; and Trachoma, a contagious bacterial eye infection that can lead to inflammation and development of scar tissue on the eyes. It is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness.
Sub-Saharan Africa bears over 40 percent of the global burden of NTDs, the most common five being elephantiasis, river blindness, bilharzia, intestinal worms and trachoma. These combined account for 90 percent of the region's NTD burden. At least one of these diseases is present in all 47 countries of the WHO's African Region.  
In Uganda, millions of persons are affected by NTDs, with bilharzia alone afflicting an estimated 1.2 million people. Figures from the Ministry of Health indicate that the country has been able to reach over 30,000 communities and 16,000 schools and institutions in over 80 districts nationwide with anti - NTDs services.
In a 2015 report titled "Country Leadership and Collaboration on Neglected Tropical Diseases" by Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, a collective of invested, interested and dedicated partners, working to fulfill the London Declaration on NTDs, said Uganda could save up to 9.1 trillion Shillings in the long term by investing in combating Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
That is nearly a half of Uganda's annual budget and could fund the health sector for about five consecutive years. Speaking at the report launch, Ellen Agler, the Chief Executive Officer of the END Fund, a private philanthropic initiative dedicated to ending the five most common NTDs, said the "NTD control efforts offer a return on investment unparalleled in global health", adding that "Ending these debilitating diseases will help reduce poverty at all levels, from families and communities to whole nations."
The Nabagereka of Buganda, Sylvia Nagginda, who delivered remarks at the side event in Kigali, said she has seen the devastating effects of NTDs first hand in her community. She added: "We cannot continue to let people across Africa suffer from these diseases of poverty when simple solutions exist. It is holding our people and our countries back. We can and we must do more." 
Uganda's NTD master plan is still in draft form. The estimated total cost of implementation is around 60 million dollars, equivalent to nearly 200 billion Shillings. The master plan involves, among other things, undertaking disease mapping, advocacy and awareness creation to solicit support and demand for NTD services, strengthening mass drug administration, surgical interventions and integrated vector control management.
The five most common NTDs in sub-Saharan Africa can effectively be prevented and treated using low-cost, easy-to-administer interventions, such as preventive chemotherapy treatments through mass drug administration in affected communities. Experts say such interventions are extremely cost effective due to a number of factors, including drug donations, the scale of national programs, the integration of drug delivery with other health initiatives, the use of volunteers and teachers for distribution, and the massive impact of NTD control on economic productivity and educational outcomes.

Pharmaceutical interventions work alongside other prevention strategies, including the promotion of safe water, sanitation and hygiene. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, specifically puts reference on ending NTDs by 2030. The World Health Organisation target is 2020. In recent years, countries across sub-Saharan Africa, including Uganda, have made tremendous progress toward ending NTDs. 
Donors, development partners and national governments have made unprecedented commitments to these diseases, including through the landmark London Declaration on NTDs, launched by a coalition of partners in January 2012, and the Addis Ababa NTD Commitment, signed by 24 African health ministers in December 2014 declaring increased leadership and budgetary contributions. 
Despite this progress, a funding gap remains to distribute medicines to the millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa who still lack access. In Rwanda, the host country for today's event, the prevalence of soil-transmitted intestinal worms has been reduced by 32 percent over the last 5 years. Rwandan Minister of Health Dr. Agnes Binagwaho said "Now is the time for leaders across Africa to prioritize NTD control and put an end to these terrible diseases in order to improve the lives of our people". 
Binagwabo revealed that in Rwanda they have invested in the people and have seen progress as a result of this commitment, adding that with human lives at stake, they simply cannot afford to wait.


About the author

David Rupiny
In his own words, David Rupiny says, "I am literally a self-trained journalist with over 12 years of experience. Add the formative, student days then I can trace my journalism roots to 1988 when as a fresher in Ordinary Level I used to report for The Giraffe News at St Aloysius College Nyapea in northern Uganda.

In addition to URN for which I have worked for five years now, I have had stints at Radio Paidha, Radio Pacis, Nile FM and KFM. I have also contributed stories for The Crusader, The New Vision and The Monitor. I have also been a contributor for international news organisations like the BBC and Institute for War and Peace Reporting. I am also a local stringer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

I am also a media entrepreneur. I founded The West Niler newspaper and now runs Rainbow Media Corporation (Rainbow Radio 88.2 FM in Nebbi). My areas of interest are conflict and peacebuilding, business, climate change, health and children and young people, among others."