The government has allocated one million dollars to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in the country. The diseases include guinea-worm, burili ulcer, guinea worm, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and trachoma.
The Minister of Health, Alban S. Bagbin, announced this in Accra yesterday when opening a three-day Regional Stakeholders’ Consultative Meeting on NTDs organised by the Africa Regional Office of World Health Organisation in collaboration with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) on the theme ‘Working better together for greater impacts on NTDs.
It is being attended by health experts, policy makers, representatives of donor agencies, pharmaceutical companies to discuss measures to scale up interventions to eliminate NTDs in Africa.
A high point on the agenda is the inauguration of a WHO Regional Advisory Group on NTDs to provide the world body with well considered advice and recommendations on NTD control and elimination.
Mr Bagbin, said Ghana was on the verge of eliminating guinea-worm and trachoma as a public health problems and added that government would continue to commit resources to the health sector to consolidate the gains made in eliminating all NTDs which he said, posed a threat to the health system of the country, and mainly affected the poor in marginalised communities.
In addition, he said those affected by the diseases tended to be stigmatised leaving people with long lasting social and economic challenges.
He said the one million dollar would help the Ghana Health Service to accelerate its interventions to eliminate NTDs in the country.
The Minister said the WHO had assisted the country to develop a five-year Strategic Plan and set up a technical advisory group to oversee all technical issues related to the NTDs.
He commended former President Kuffuor for his appointment as the Global Ambassador and Advocate for NTDs saying, “we believe this is yet another step towards building on the global profile and places for Ghana and Africa appropriately to take advantage of the current goodwill generated across all sectors.”
The Acting Director- General of the GHS, Dr Frank Nyonator in a remark commended the country’s development partners and international donors for their roles towards elimination of NTDs in Africa.
Africa, according to the WHO, would need about 1.5 billion dollars in the next five years to develop interventions to combat tropical diseases.
Meanwhile, Partners and donors including the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development, the Department for International Development and pharmaceutical companies at the World NTD Conference in London in January, this year, pledged a total of 600 million dollars to combat NTDs.
Dr Nyonator said the regional conference marked a turning point that would place NTDs on the same level of priority as other public health diseases.
The WHO Africa Regional Director, Dr Luis Sambo, in an address read on his behalf said tropical diseases often disfigured, disabled and accounted for an estimated 534,000 global deaths annually.
He commended Ghana for efforts it had made to totally eliminate guinea-worm and trachoma and said “there is hope that countries in the region can eliminate NTDs.”
Dr Sambo said the current momentum to control and eliminate targeted NTDs had accentuated the need for stronger leadership and better co-ordination of interventions.
Thus, he said, the WHO was focusing on four strategic areas like strengthening government ownership, co-ordination, advocacy and partnership and enhancing monitoring, evaluation, surveillance and operational research towards combating tropical diseases.
The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Professor John Gyapong who chaired the programme, noted that it was possible to eradicate NTDs through available resources and a strong will from all stakeholders.
He called for co-ordination among the development partners and international donors to avoid the duplication of interventions to combat NTDs and said strong advocacy from stakeholders and world leaders could help combat the disease.
He called for capacity building for officials involved working on NTDs and strengthening of institutions working towards the elimination of the tropical diseases.