The end of June saw the launch of Country Leadership and Collaboration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, the third progress report on the landmark London Declaration on NTDs in which a number of partners committed to eliminating or controlling 10 neglected diseases by 2020. As well as showcasing examples of countries making strides toward increasing domestic investments to control and eliminate NTDs and providing a compelling case for why NTDs are a development best buy, the report tracks the progress being made by all the ten NTDs towards elimination. So, what does it tell us about trachoma?
The report includes a global scorecard, which provides a topline ‘traffic light’ overview of how each disease is tracking against 2020 targets. This year, trachoma scores an overall green but with two yellow ratings against coverage and impact milestones and drug requests filled. So, all in all, trachoma appears to be making good progress despite some challenges.
As Lisa Rotondo, Vice-Chair of the NNN, highlighted at the launch, trachoma is making fantastic progress. We benefit from a uniquely strong global partnership, ambitious mapping efforts and fantastic resource commitments from a range NGDOs, donors and private sector partners. 2014 saw the launch of two large scale funded initiatives, which have made tremendous strides in their first year of implementation.
However, there is still much to be done. Yes, as the report highlights, more progress needs to be made to address the facial cleanliness and environmental improvement components of the WHO-endorsed strategy for elimination. We are making inroads through our work to build linkages with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sectors but more work is needed to advocate the value of the WASH sector targeting their services to NTD-endemic communities. With all the current talk within the development sector around reaching the most in need, NTDs like trachoma, as proxy indicators for disease and poverty, provide a unique opportunity for the WASH sector to target their services to the areas of highest need.
A second but related area of priority is operational research. There are critical but as-yet unaddressed questions relating to all four elements of the SAFE strategy and community assessment that need to be answered as soon as possible to ensure the success, sustainability or efficiency of trachoma elimination efforts. Further work to refine the facial cleanliness and environmental improvement components of SAFE is particularly urgent.
Finally, further investments are needed to address the funding gaps. The Global Trachoma Mapping Project has provided us with an unprecedented understanding of where the needs for trachoma interventions exist by mapping prevalence in areas that were suspected to be endemic. As a result, the number of districts confirmed as endemic has increased to 1,530, increasing the amount of known work that lies ahead. Through our advocacy and resource mobilisation efforts we need to significantly expand the group of donors contributing to trachoma elimination efforts.
There is no question that the elimination of blinding trachoma is an achievable objective – what can we do together to influence the scope and scale of support available to global efforts? It is our urgent responsibility to act now - despite the progress we’re seeing; people in communities are still suffering. We all agree that this should not be business as usual. Supporting the elimination of trachoma is a unique opportunity to be part of an exceptional success story of making a painful and debilitation disease history and we welcome and invite others to be a part of it.