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Now Is Not the Time to Quit Fighting Neglected Tropical Diseases

By Paige Alexander, chief executive officer, and Kashef Ijaz, vice president, Health Programs The Carter Center

The world’s most vulnerable people work hard every day to overcome poverty and disease. They aren’t interested in handouts, but with a hand up they can get the resources they need to surmount obstacles to prosperity and peace.

That’s why The Carter Center is proud to be part of a coalition of partners addressing a set of devastating illnesses collectively called neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs.

Thirty-five years ago, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter saw a gap and stepped in to fill it. As a result, The Carter Center has led, with support from many partners, the global fight to eradicate Guinea worm disease. In 1986, an estimated 3.5 million people per year were afflicted with these painful, often incapacitating worms. In 2020, thanks to the work of the endemic countries and support from bilateral, foundation, and individual donors, just 27 human cases were reported worldwide.

Photo of a mother and daughter.

A mother and daughter wait outside the Chuahit Health Clinic in North Gondar, Ethiopia. The Carter Center helps Ethiopia in its fight against trachoma, river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis.

More than three decades on, The Carter Center remains fully committed to combating NTDs. We are in it for the long run, and we urge all our partners to hold fast.

In 2012, a powerful alliance of governments, organizations, drug manufacturers, and foundations coalesced at a conference held in the United Kingdom and signed a pledge that came to be known as the London Declaration. The signatories agreed to devote the time, talent, and treasure necessary to defeat a roster of NTDs that contribute to the cycle of poverty, handicap economic development, and threaten peace.

Since the London Declaration was issued, this compassionate coalition has made significant advancements not only against Guinea worm but also against river blindness, trachoma, and other conditions — diseases that many people in developed countries have never even heard of because today they only affect the most marginalized and forgotten places in the world.

Through our joint efforts, billions of doses of donated antifilarial (deworming) drugs, antibiotics, and other medications have been administered. Multiple millions of water filters and mosquito nets have been distributed. Millions of latrines have been built. Hundreds of thousands of sight-saving surgeries have been performed. People in tens of thousands of villages around the globe have acquired the knowledge to adopt healthy behaviors.

We are closing in on the eradication of Guinea worm, and the elimination of other diseases in many places is within reach. The generosity of the British people has contributed to these incredible global successes, but the recent cut in funds will be devastating to the poorest communities in the world.

By maintaining progress against NTDs, together we strengthen local communities’ and whole countries’ capacity to keep people healthy. The public health infrastructure that NTD programs reinforce — clinics, disease surveillance and response systems, etc. — serve broader health needs as well, including the ability to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics. We must continue to open paths for programs to work together to enhance efficiency and effectiveness for global health security. We must maintain the energy behind essential research and continue to support the thousands of committed people — including local community health workers and volunteers — who administer the medications, perform the surgeries, and provide the health education that is the best preventative of all.

While the documented success of this important work is not dependent on any single donor or implementing partner, every entity contributes something vitally important to the collective effort. We all must maintain and renew the commitment articulated in the London Declaration and reiterated as recently as January, when the World Health Organization launched the 2030 NTD Road Map.

Despite political, economic, philosophical, and myriad other differences, we are one human family. When one of us suffers needlessly, we are all diminished, whether we know it or not. Neglected tropical diseases are not going to go away on their own; we who have the capability have a moral obligation to humanity to stay in the fight.

Related Resources

The Carter Center: Leader in the Eradication and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases

Video | The Carter Center: Leader in the Eradication and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases

Learn more about the Center’s Health Programs »

 

Posted in Guinea Worm Disease Eradication, Health, Hispaniola Initiative, International Task Force for Disease Eradication, Lymphatic Filariasis, Malaria, River Blindness, Schistosomiasis, Trachoma Control

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