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Health News Wed, 1 Dec 2010

African countries urged to plan against neglected tropical diseases

Accra, Dec. 1, GNA - Participants at a consultative meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) have called for a comprehensive multi-year country plan to implement sustainable NTDs programmes in Africa. They also called for integration of mass drug administration to encourage delivery of preventive chemotherapy (PCT) to control such diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.

The call was made at a three-day Regional NTDs Consultative meeting which opened in Accra on Tuesday. The participants are representatives of the WHO, senior officials of the Ministries of Health of 13 countries in Africa and major international donors and partners that support NTDs in the Region. The major objectives of the workshop include the review of progress in the control of NTDs in Africa and major priorities for 2011-2015. Others are the review of country multi-year plans for controlling NTDs in Africa for 2011-2015 and the review of coordination and partnership mechanisms to harmonize and streamline financial, technical and logistical support for NTD programmes in Africa.

The meeting will also articulate strategies for accelerating resource mobilization and scaling up access to interventions against NTDs Africa. Speaking to the Ghana News Agency after the opening ceremony in Accra, Dr Adiele Onyeze, Regional Programme Manager of the World Health Organisation - Africa Region Organisation (WHO-AFRO), said NTDs affected the quality of lives of millions of people adding that their impact on productivity and economic development was enormous. Mr Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of Global Network for NTDs, said countries should decide on how best to embark on and proceed with the development of an integrated NTD control programme in a manner that promoted efficiency and local ownership, which were prerequisites for sustainability. Dr. Adrian Hopkins, Director of Mectizan Donation Programme, said the challenge was for the countries to get one intervention for a group of the diseases.

He said combining the delivery of multiple health interventions had the potential to minimize cost and expand intervention coverage, adding that when this was achieved it would promote economic development. Dr. Dirk Engels, Coordinator of Preventive Chemotherapy and Transmission Control Department of NTDs, said when countries put in place a well coordinated strategy, the impact of treatment would be very positive. He added that it was important for inventions to reach the very last mile of endemic areas.

Dr. Joseph Amankwah, Director of Public Health of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), who chaired the opening ceremony, said there was the need to tackle NTDs holistically if Africa wanted to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

He said there was the need for flexibility that allowed integration thereby strengthening the health system. Africa bears a disproportionately high burden of NTDs which include Guinea worm, leprosy, Trypanosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis (round worm infestation), which affects many school-age children. With only a handful of countries having embarked on integrated NTD control, experience on how to develop and implement an efficient integrated programme is limited.

Historically, national and global programmes were focused on the control of only one disease, usually through a comprehensive approach that involved several interventions including preventive chemotherapy. Overcoming the disease-specific structures and ensuring that the integrated programme is embedded within the existing health structures, pose considerable challenges to policy makers and implementers wishing to embark on integrated NTD control. 1 Dec. 10

Source: GNA