By Aziza Atieno
Kenyans joined the rest of the world in commemorating world Neglected Tropical Diseases(NTD) day in a colorful ceremony on Sunday, 30th January at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) grounds in Nairobi.
Besides advocacy and creation of awareness, the annual celebration brought partners together to take stock of the milestones achieved in the fight against these neglected diseases.
NTDs are a group of chronic disabling infections affecting more than one billion people worldwide, mainly in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They mostly afflict those living in remote rural areas and slums. These diseases have received relatively much less funding or attention from national governments, and medical and donor communities despite the vast numbers of people affected.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 20 diseases listed under NTDs that are caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and toxins.
Marking the NTD Day in Kenya, Dr. Wyckliff Omondi, Head division of vector borne and NTDs, said Kenya has successfully eliminated guinea worm in the country and has a goal of eliminating four neglected diseases by 2030 through creating innovative ways.
He said Kenya is taking a new approach in educating the communities in health education, sanitation and behavior change as part of the strategy to eliminating these diseases.
Dr Monique Wasunna ,Director at Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative(DNDi) – Africa Regional Office is making progress in developing treatment for some of these diseases. In sleeping sickness, she mentioned that DNDi has developed a a simple all-oral treatment that can cure all stages of the disease.
She appealed to the government and other partners to join in the efforts to develop, roll out and scale up new innovative tools to test and treat NTDs.
Additionally, Dr Wasunna called on donors and philanthropists to invest sustainably in research and development and increasing access to new tools for NTDs.
The WHO representative, Adielle Onyenze, said that despite significant progress in the fight against NTDs challenges still remain. These include inadequate government ownership of NTDs control and elimination programs, insufficient funding as well as COVID -19 pandemic.
He advocated for solidarity of all partners to mobilize and secure commitment to deliver the goals that have been indicated to end NTDs by 2030 and promote interventions to strengthen health equity in the world to end these diseases related to the marginalized communities.
Noting that these diseases affect more than 40% of the population, Dr. Ndirangu Wanjuki, Country Director for AMREF in Kenya, mentioned that the battle to end NTDs is not only about improving the lives of people but also our economies.
He said that investing in highly cost effective solutions like massive drug administration would give our economy 50-100 return investment through saving health systems and increased productivity.
The French Embassy Regional Health Counsellor, Dr. Pierre Bello, mentioned the French government’s commitment in the fight against NTDs, noting that his government through the (French Development Agency (AFD-France) has provided funding to support different organizations, including DNDi and UNITAID, and has helped run projects for NTDs such as developing the first ever oral treatment for sleeping sickness, kala-azar and -post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis, as well as supporting efforts to tackle malaria and pediatric HIV.
He further emphasized on the need to support and fund NTD projects, support research for new tools to prevent, diagnose and treat neglected diseases and strengthen capacity while working with and engaging affected communities.
Other organizations which were part of the event include The END FUND, Sightsavers, Abt Associates, Ministry Of Health, Clinton Health Access Initiative, Oriole Global Health, Children Investments Fund Foundation, Kenya Snake Bite and Intervention Centre, and Crown Agents Kenya.
The event was marked with a light up of the KICC grounds.