Uganda is to receive $43million (about sh155b) over three years to support efforts to eliminate schistosomiasis (bilharzia).
The Lives and Livelihood Fund, a partnership between the Islamic Development Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors, is expected to benefit more than five million people living near water bodies in 73 districts in Uganda.
The announcement was made in the fourth World Health Organisation report on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) launched at the organisation’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday.
The fund will be used for sanitation awareness in 75% of the schistosomiasis endemic districts, training 25,000 health workers in diagnosing and treating kal-azar (visceral leismaniasis), training Village Health Teams in identifying podoconiosis (a type of elephantiasis), jiggers and Buruli Ulcer disease and for monitoring and supervising NTD programmes.
Schistosomiasis is a parasite infection caused by blood worms. In 2014, the disease was reported in 78 countries. At least 258 million people, 90% of them living in Africa, needed preventive treatment, according to IFPMA report.
People are infected by exposure to water infested with worms which penetrate the skin. There are two types of bilharzia: intestinal and urinary.
Intestinal shistosomiasis, the most common in Uganda causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, passing of blood in stool and enlarged organs. The urinal type causes blood in urine, kidney damage and even bladder cancer.
But bilharzia is just one of the NTDs afflicting Ugandans in the poorest communities. NTDs are prevalent in almost all its 112 districts making Uganda one of the high burden countries.
“Over half of the population is at risk of contracting at least one NTD,”a Lives and Livelihoods Fund Brief states.
The report launch coincided with the fifth anniversary of the London Declaration on NTDs, a commitment and partnership of donors, governments and pharmaceuticals to eradicate 12 NTDs by 2020.
NTDs are debilitating diseases that afflict over a billion people in the world’s poorest communities. They are caused by various parasites bacteria and viruses many of which are transmitted by vectors. The diseases thrive in tropical and sub-tropical climates. NTDs are painful. They disfigure and blind the sufferers. They disable and lead to poor health and death.
By keeping children out of school and adults out of work NTDs perpetuate cycles of poverty and block any chance of an economic future.
The report showed that the number of people needing treatment for NTDs has decreased from two billion in 2010 to 1.6billion in 2015.
The report highlights as a major achievement, eight countries, including Togo to have eliminated Lymphatic Filariasis which causes elephantiasis or hydrocele. The disease is caused by thread-like worms that are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Uganda is moving towards elimination of elephantiasis, according to Dr Edrida Muheki, the head, Vector Control Programme in the Ministry of Health.
“We will achieve the 2020 target to eliminate elephantiasis,” she said.
Muheki explained that WHO cleared 41 of 55 districts previously endemic of LF to stop mass drug treatment. She said surveys in four other districts are showing good results and only await WHO approval to stop intervention.
The report also highlights achievements in the fight against sleeping sickness (Human African Trypanosomiasis). In 2015 there were only 3,000 cases reported worldwide, the lowest in history.
Major progress has also been made in eradication of Guinea worm disease which has reduced from 3.5million cases in 1986 to just 25 in 2016 in three countries – Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
At the global partners meeting in Geneva yesterday (Wednesday April 19), leaders pledged over $800m in renewed commitments to accelerate the elimination of NTDs.
United Kingdom’s DFID announced 205million pounds sterling over the next five years to tackle the NTDs, this is in addition to 55million pounds of planned spending over the next two years. Over the next five years Britain’s support will make available over a billion treatments to eradicate Guinea worm, tackle trachoma and kal-azar.
At the event, Belgian formally joined the coalition with an announcement of 25m Euros to eliminate sleeping sickness. This is in addition to 10m Euro they had committed for the next five years.
Announcing the commitment Belgian Prime minister Alexander de Croo emphasized the need for increased vigilance even though the cases of sleeping sickness had dropped to a few thousand cases.
“There were two occasions in the 1960s and 1980s when we came close to eradicating sleeping sickness but never finished it; but now today we have to,” he said. “We can make it disappear. It is a few thousand people today because of past decades’ efforts. We can make it pay off for one billion people living in poverty,” he said.
Bill Gates announced a donation of $335m committed over the next four years towards the control and treatment of NTDs, of which $42m is to The Carter Center for eradication of Guinea worm.
Major pharmaceuticals also made pledges to donate drugs to treat and control NTDs.
Eisai, Pfizer CEOs committed to producing drugs for elephantiasis and trachoma respectively, until the diseases are eradicated.