|Tackling and Eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) with Common Tools but Innovative Applications of Knowledge is a Moral Imperative|
PAHO Director remarks during the opening ceremony of the "2011 International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID) Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)”, in Boston, Massachusetts, where leading non tropical disease experts are discussing the approach to neglected tropical diseases. It's the first ever NTDs meeting of the International Society of Infectious Diseases.
ISID-NTD: AN INTERNATIONAL MEETING DEDICATED TO ELIMINATING NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES
" NTDs debilitate and dramatically reduce the quality of life for more than one billion people living in developing countries around the world. As a result, these diseases cause great suffering and obstruct socioeconomic development in these countries. Eliminating these diseases will require effective action and strong sustained global commitment. Effective action can only come from a connected community of individuals in different sectors and from many countries working closely together. The combined voice of this community is essential to sustain global commitment over time. An open international meeting dedicated to eliminating NTDs will serve to nucleate this community and provide a podium from which its voice can be heard."
“Today, as we gather here more than 1 billion persons on this planet are afflicted by Neglected Tropical Diseases. This involves women, children, the laborer, fisher and farmer from the rural areas, the shanty-town dweller, the elderly, the displaced, the imprisoned, the indigenous people and those abandoned or subject to stigma and discrimination.”
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentleman,
A warm welcome to you all!
I would like to thank Dr. Eric Summers, ISID Program Director, for the invitation and the opportunity to address you this afternoon at the opening of the first full meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases developed and sponsored by ISID.
PAHO is proud to be one of the co-sponsors of this very important event. This meeting brings together, in this beautiful venue of the City of Boston, hundreds of young and seasoned scientists, public health officials, pharmaceutical teams, members of foundations and NGOs and others who devote their professional lives, directly or indirectly, to improving the health of the world’s poor through research, practice or policy-making.
This meeting will be a message to everyone, that today, as we gather here more than 1 billion persons on this planet are afflicted by Neglected Tropical Diseases. This involves women, children, the laborer, fisher and farmer from the rural areas, the shanty-town dweller, the elderly, the displaced, the imprisoned, the indigenous people and those abandoned or subject to stigma and discrimination. These are the most common victims of the NTDs, robbing them of their growth and their schooling when young, their strength and productivity as adults, their social status and their health throughout the life- course, and indeed robbing them of their freedom – freedom to live a productive, creative, long and healthy life.
But this meeting will also deliver another message, a stronger message, that today at the beginning of the 21st Century, every one of these afflicted persons can and should have hope, they can live free of the burden of the intestinal worms, the risk of blindness from trachoma and onchocerciasis, the disabilities brought by leprosy and Buruli ulcer, free of human African trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis, and the premature death brought by schistosomiasis and Chagas disease. A physician we know remarked that, though she had participated in dozens and dozens of necropsies in the course of her medical career, the only one she still remembers, strikingly clear, is that of a young child that died of intestinal obstruction caused by balls of Ascaris nematodes. I hope that in the next 5, 10 or 15 years we will be able to say that future medical students will not have such memories to haunt them.
WHO’s “Global Plan to Combat the Neglected Tropical Diseases 2008-2015” has oriented us very well on what to do, setting the broad lines of the major strategy. The publication last year of the first WHO Report on the NTDs titled “Working to Overcome the Global Impact of NTDs” has revealed the remarkable progress made by so many countries and their partners in the long fight to defeat these diseases of poverty.
Now, let us come back to our Meeting this weekend in Boston and recap some of our debates during the preparations. When we began brainstorming about this meeting 2 years ago, there was some trepidation. Will there be enough persons interested in what sounds like an esoteric topic, even for biomedical scientists? Who in the medical and scientific community would really be ready to hear about and discuss these diseases of neglected peoples? Those who suffer from NTD infections certainly don’t make the headlines, and neither do some of these diseases, with their long, tongue-twisting names that even my own physician has trouble pronouncing!
But we were really encouraged by the resonance and interest in many countries and organizations. The strong turn-out at the NTD sessions during the 14th International Congress on Infectious Diseases, held early last year in Miami, was an enthusiastic boost to those determined to organize a robust and exciting meeting this year. The Program Advisory Committee for this meeting worked hard, took advantage of all opportunities to exchange ideas, and created a really interesting program for you, with well-known and lesser-known experts and advocates of the control and elimination of the NTDs.
Our young researchers will offer you oral presentations of their important work, and poster sessions will allow you to gaze carefully at new laboratory and field research and talk directly to the investigators.
The 8 Symposia we will hear and participate in over the next two-and-a-half days will take a look at many interesting issues:
a) What it will take to eliminate several NTDs such as schistosomiasis and lymphatic filariasis;
b) The new and the forthcoming Tools (vaccines, diagnostics and drugs) to combat the NTDs;
c) The challenge of setting Priorities for their prevention and treatment in the context of developing economies and the need to work with other sectors like water and sanitation, education and housing.
Additionally, we will consider:
d) The Reach of the NTDs, how they impact the human life-course, the impact of co-infections in those who also suffer from HIV or malaria, and how some NTDs like dengue and Chagas disease have spread that reach through human activity or migration; and
e) The challenges posed by the most rapidly expanding NTD: dengue fever.
Finally, we will look carefully at:
f) How different geographic Regions, continents, are tackling the NTDs often with common tools but innovative applications of knowledge; and
g) The commitment of the pharmaceutical industry and the international Non-governmental development programs and their collaboration and with Ministries of Health and Education and other international partners is finally defeating a number of these neglected diseases across several continents.
Regional Experiences in the Americas
I cannot leave the podium today without offering you some reflections on our regional experiences in the Americas, and hope that they in turn may help us reflect what can be achieved in all regions afflicted by these “ancient scourges” as Peter Hotez aptly describes them. Schistosomiasis, river blindness, leprosy and lymphatic filariasis came to the Americas with the trans-Atlantic slave trade 500 years ago, compounding one cruelty with another, and adding up to the existing misery of endemic Chagas disease and other intestinal worms! Our peoples of African descent and our native Amerindian communities were and still are bearing a heavy, disproportionate, burden of some of these diseases, along with the poor descendants of the European colonists who were also exposed to these infections. Though we in Latin America and the Caribbean have the unfortunate record of having the greatest range of economic disparity (the super-rich and the very poor) among the regions of the world, we are trying hard to tackle poverty at the community level and address the social determinants that feed and maintain it… and which indeed feed and maintain the NTDs.
Based upon research, reflection, experience and much discussion, PAHO Ministers of Health committed in a 2009 Directing Council Resolution (equivalent to WHO Regional Committees) to move from sometimes spasmodic and isolated NTD control efforts to a goal of elimination of 10 neglected infectious and tropical diseases in the 33 countries of the LAC Region and to an intensified control of two others [STH and schistosomiasis] –all this by the year 2015. This is indeed a very ambitious, but extremely needed and timely commitment, building on well documented achievements of the past decade in this Region, such as:
When we have the tools in hand, the local and regional cases of success to guide us, and we know we can and have mustered the political will in some countries, it becomes a Moral Imperative that we eliminate these diseases!
PAHO and the Pan-American Ministers of Health are ready to join the people in the Americas, and Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific – in confronting the challenge and mobilizing the resources required to defeat these avoidable diseases of poverty and deprivation over the course of the next few years.
I thank again all those who have contributed to the realization of this meeting and those who have come to share and learn from each other. I wish you all a very productive and fruitful outcome not only for building friendships and partnerships but also for forging a strong support community and a social movement to back and pave the road to success in this noble endeavor of freeing the poorest from unnecessary and unacceptable pain, disability and death.
The 2011 International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID) Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) (ISID-NTDs) is an opportunity for health professionals from around the world who are working to end debilitating diseases that afflict the world's poorest people to learn from world leaders in the fields of global health, tropical medicine, public policy and social research about what is happening, and what still needs to happen, to eliminate these neglected diseases.
The meeting provides non-profit organizations and policy makers with the opportunity to understand the toll these illnesses can have. Neglected tropical diseases, which include elephantiasis, river blindness, and Chagas, affect 1 billion of the world's poorest people.
The meeting focus on ideas and actions related to achieving the goals of the WHO Global Plan to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases 2008-2015.
For more information, contact Office of the Director, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO)
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization