Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) have much in common. Both cause undue suffering in communities globally, especially in Africa. Yet while this scourge of infectious diseases can be treated and prevented, more than 600,000 people are still being killed every year by malaria alone.
Over the past two decades, incredible progress has been made, proving that the fight against these diseases can be won. For Malaria, two decades of targeted investment have saved 10.6 million lives and prevented 1.7 billion cases, while 40 countries have eliminated the disease for good.
In NTDs, forty-six countries have eliminated at least one NTD, some 600 million people no longer require treatment against an NTD and cases of some diseases which have plagued humanity for centuries, such as sleeping sickness and Guinea worm disease, are at an all-time low. This shows we can reach the targets in the World Health Organization NTD road map and end NTDs.
These are remarkable achievements that deserve to be celebrated. And it is thanks to country leadership and determination, as well as invaluable partnerships among private, public, and non-profit sectors, that the end of these diseases is feasible.
Sustaining action against Malaria and NTDs
However, while celebrating these successes, we must not lose sight of the end goal. Malaria and NTDs continue to afflict the lives and livelihoods of billions of people, with half the world at risk from Malaria and 1 in 5 at risk from NTDs. These diseases cause ill health, disability, disfigurement and a shocking number of deaths each year. They also prevent children from going to school and adults from working, costing endemic countries billions of dollars in lost economic output.
Integration across communities, sectors, and specialisms is vital to achieving our shared goal of a world free from Malaria and NTDs. We must unite, from governments to grassroots organisations, to achieve our shared mission. This will require new investments, bolder strategic partnerships, and an increased focus on disease surveillance and early warning systems. We all have a role to play – in endemic and donor countries, civil society, the private sector, academia, and non-profit organisations.
A historic opportunity
That is why we are so encouraged to see global leaders and changemakers from around the world come together this week at the Kigali Summit on Malaria and NTDs. Taking place on 23 June on the sidelines of the 26 th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda — hosted by His Excellency President Paul Kagame and the first time in a decade that Africa will host the meeting — the summit will be a historic opportunity to accelerate action against Malaria and NTDs and make commitments that will allow countries to unlock their potential to build healthier, safer and stronger societies.
Ultimately, investments toward ending these diseases will save lives, strengthen communities, drive economic growth, and support healthcare systems detecting and responding to diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how vulnerable we are to sudden health shocks and how critical it is to build robust health systems to respond to those shocks. Investment in combatting Malaria and NTDs will not only tackle life-threatening illnesses but will strengthen healthcare systems, support long-term preparedness, and bolster economic growth. Investing in fighting Malaria and NTDs is an investment toward a healthier, equitable, and stable world.
Calling for decisive action
Therefore, we call on global leaders to make bold, decisive commitments at the Kigali Summit. They must renew commitments made at the 2018 London Malaria Summit, endorse the Kigali Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, and deliver a fully resourced Global Fund Replenishment target later this year. The Kigali Declaration, for example, will seek to secure resources and galvanize action to achieve the targets set out in the WHO NTD 2030 Roadmap, while a replenished Global Fund of at least US$18 billion is projected to save 20 million more lives from Malaria and avert over 450 million cases of the disease over the next three-year cycle.
We must also ensure that endemic countries, including our home countries of Zimbabwe and Rwanda, are front and center of the response – leading the change their countries and communities need most. Supporting countries to tackle these diseases not only keeps their citizens and health programs but unlocks their full potential to advance their economy and future prosperity.
With a clear-eyed focus at the Kigali Summit and much-needed commitments from world leaders, we can end the suffering caused by these diseases. While the Kigali Summit is a critical moment in our journey, we must ensure that commitments made this week are honoured, and that millions more lives are saved due to this essential collaboration. We have so much to gain by ending Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases – so let’s unlock the potential of a disease-free world.
On Thursday, June 23, global leaders and changemakers from around the world are gathering in Kigali to make robust new commitments to end Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Register and watch the live stream at: https://bit.ly/3b2Pjej