WHO South-East Asia pledge intensified efforts against neglected tropical diseases

SEAR/PR/1648

Jakarta /New Delhi, 26 April 2017 - Making significant progress against neglected tropical diseases, countries in WHO South-East Asia Region today resolved to further fast track efforts to eradicate, eliminate and control, by 2020, these diseases which affect the most marginalized and neglected population, pushing them further into poverty and a life marred by deformity and stigma.

Adopting a ‘Call for Action’ at a high-level ministerial meeting in Jakarta, Member countries pledged according highest priority to accelerating efforts against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

“WHO South-East Asia made the battle against NTDs a regional health priority and a flagship programme in 2014. We are seeing significant progress. Last year alone India was declared yaws-free, and Maldives and Sri Lanka eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem. Our Region continues to undertake the largest preventive chemotherapy campaign in the world,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia said.

The Call for Action stressed on promoting innovation and research to improve surveillance, diagnosis and treatment for further reducing NTD diseases burden.

Member countries pledged to increase monetary and human resources in a sustainable manner, to meet newer challenges as NTDs get increasing confined to smaller geographical pockets, closer to elimination.

The Jakarta Call for Action also sought innovative approaches to increase community participation and monitor progress on a real time basis at the lowest possible administrative level and introduce new tools as soon as they are made available.

The WHO South-East Asia Region is targeting elimination of lymphatic filariasis, kala-azar, schistosomiasis, trachoma and leprosy as a public health problem. It is also seeking to end yaws.

Out of the nine countries endemic for lymphatic filariasis (LF) in the Region, Maldives and Sri Lanka have eliminated the disease as a public health problem. Thailand and Bangladesh have completed mass drug administration (key initiative for LF elimination) in all endemic areas, while India became the first country globally to be verified for yaws elimination and formally acknowledged to be yaws free in 2016. The region is closer to achieving elimination of kala-azar as a public health problem.

Though more countries are getting closer to eliminating various NTDs, challenges remain, which need to be dealt with on a priority, the Regional Director said.

Though there has been progress, much remains to be done. Home to one fourth of the world population, WHO South-East Asia continues to bear the second highest burden of NTDs among six regions of WHO. It has the highest burden of lymphatic filariasis, accounting for 53% of global population requiring preventive chemotherapy. The Region accounts for 74% of new leprosy cases reported globally, 41 per cent of global kala-azar cases and 42% of children who require preventive chemotherapy for soil-transmitted helminthes.

The new last mile challenges for NTD elimination have also generated newer solutions as well as partnerships. These include shorter and newer drug regimen for LF, real time digital monitoring for local data of kala azar and South-South collaboration for diseases like schistosomiasis, the Regional Director said, adding that innovations and investments are needed, especially for leprosy, which continues to be one of the biggest NTD challenge in the Region.

The three-day high-level meeting in Jakarta, which began this morning, is being attended by five ministers of health – a demonstration of the strong political commitment in the Region to eliminate NTDs. The Jakarta Call for Action, could be an important turning point in further accelerating efforts against NTDs in the Region.

“The NTDs offers a mechanism to reach marginalized people to ensure no one is left behind through principles of universal health coverage and social justice,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

The meeting acknowledged the contribution made by donors, affected communities and partners involved in the NTD programmes.

The Call for Action sought continued and intensified support of all leaders, policy-makers, partners, civil society and the public in the WHO South-East Asia Region and around the world to actively support elimination of NTDs, which should no longer exist amongst humanity.

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Media contact:

Shamila Sharma
Phone: +91 9818287256
Email: sharmasha@who.int