By Amber Cashwell

The Group of  Twenty (G20) is a forum for international cooperation  on important economic and financial issues, bringing together finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 countries plus the European Union. Amber Cashwell, Policy Officer for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, attended a G20 civil society conference hosted by the Russian government December 11-13, 2012.

Russia assumed presidency of Group of 20 (G20) on December 1, 2012, and made an impressive start by launching a number of separate G20 meetings in Moscow during December 11-13 with think tanks, academics, business officials and civil society representatives.   I attended civil society meetings on behalf of the Global Network’s policy team to see how we can influence G20 governments to take hold of the neglected tropical disease (NTD) issue.

Since economic growth stands out as the top issue to be addressed during the 2013 G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, we hope that NTDs will be recognized as a vital issue for ensuring comprehensive and sustainable economic growth.   The Global Network recently published a research and policy analysis study on the economic impact of NTDs in collaboration with the Hudson Institute’s Center for Science in Public Policy. The impact of NTDs extends far beyond health and leaves people unable to work, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and hindering them from contributing to their local and national economies.  

Together, G20 nations represent about 85 percent of the world economy, and by leveraging their resources and influence, they too can play a substantial role in the fight to end these diseases by the 2020 goals set by the World Health Organization.

Russia, especially, has a valuable role to play in tackling NTDs. While I was in Moscow, I met experts from the Martsinovksy Institute, a research and technical training facility at the Moscow State Medical University.  Established in 1920, the institute has an impressive history of working on disease control efforts and contributed to combating malaria in Russia in the 1960s.  Today, the institute works in collaboration with the Russian Federation Ministry of Health to provide technical expertise to other countries. For example, in Russia’s neighboring countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Martsinovksy Institute has offered expertise to help control leishmaniasis.

During the 2008 St. Petersburg G8 Summit, Russia was the first to make infectious diseases a top priority on the G8 agenda.  As the upcoming host of the 2013 G20 and 2014 G8, Russia has an incredible opportunity to carry out this commitment by lending resources and technical expertise to the global fight against NTDs.