Last week, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released a report – A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economics through Sustainable Development. After much deliberation, experts have made recommendations to the Secretary General of the United Nations, who will then pass on the document to member states for final acceptance. This report sets the stage for the international development agenda, including global priorities and targets leading up to 2030.
As a South African-born, US-based public health physician, with specific involvement in addressing neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), I read through the document with much interest. Unsurprisingly, I was delighted to see explicit mention of NTDs for the first time in a report of this nature. There are many issues and topics mentioned under “Universal Goals” including: poverty, education, women and girls, healthy lives, food security and water and sanitation. NTDs are discussed under the goal healthy lives amongst other health issues, such as preventing maternal and child deaths; vaccines and immunizations; reproductive health; HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria and non-communicable diseases.
Yet, amidst such a comprehensive and all-inclusive list of priorities, I remain excited that NTDs were recognized as an agenda-worthy topic.
NTDs affect more than 1.5 billion people – that’s one out of every six people on this planet. Yet, for a problem that affects so many, there is a treatment that costs so little; it costs less than 50 cents to treat and protect a person against seven of the most common NTDs. Beyond this treatment, NTD control enhances all the other development interventions – ranging from increasing school attendance and a child’s ability to learn, to helping women generate an income. So, rationally speaking, these are safe, efficacious, high quality, cost-effective and high-impact interventions that deserve international attention. BUT…
There’s something else. Unlike other issues– HIV, maternal health, education, poverty— we, in industrialized countries and the “global North”, do NOT experience NTDs. We do not know what it means to contract elephantiasis, schistosomiasis or any of the other 17 recognized NTDs.
So, explicit mention of NTDs is a milestone in international development. It heralds a move beyond the science- and empathy- based agenda of wealthier countries. Instead, it speaks to a larger humanity defining movement that acknowledges the voiceless, poorest billion-and-a-half people suffering from neglected tropical diseases. But beyond simple recognition, this report demonstrates commitment to represent the underrepresented—those whom the world has neglected.