By Haruna Gimba
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been recognised for gains made by the West Africa region in tackling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that affect more than 600 million people in Africa, nearly half of whom are in ECOWAS.
ECOWAS was presented with a Leadership Award by Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases during the bloc’s Heads of State Meeting. The award honoured 10 of ECOWAS’s member states who are among 21 African countries that have successfully eliminated at least one NTD.
Also recognised were Ghana and Benin; both countries received a Major Achievement Award for eliminating three NTDs each.
NTDs are a group of 20 preventable and treatable diseases that are endemic in 49 African countries, and which affect over a billion people globally. They cause suffering, disability, disfigurement, and are fatal in many cases.
They also inflict significant economic damage on individuals and countries in terms of lost productivity and treatment costs. The African continent accounts for more than a third of the global NTD burden.
Speaking during the awards ceremony, Guinea Bissau’s President, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who is also Chairman of ECOWAS, commended the region for its relentless pursuit of an NTD-free West Africa.
President Embaló said: “Across West Africa, we have witnessed the transformative impact of our combined efforts. Through sustained commitment and innovative strategies, we have made substantial strides in reducing the prevalence of NTDs, alleviating human suffering, and promoting a brighter future for our people.”
Reacting to the announcement, the Chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki said: “Our vision for Africa is for healthy and well-nourished citizens, free from preventable diseases, including NTDs.
“The exceptional achievement by ECOWAS showcases the relentless efforts to accelerate the elimination of NTDs on the Continent. As we celebrate these accomplishments, we must redouble our efforts to promote domestic resource mobilisation, enhance integration and further advance the fight.”
Recognition of the achievements of ECOWAS, Ghana, and Benin, follows that accorded to Togo in 2022, when it became the first country globally to eliminate four NTDs and the first African country to be validated as having eliminated sleeping sickness.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, said: “The progress we have made in eliminating these debilitating diseases is a testament to the dedication and collaboration of our member states and serves as an inspiration to double down on our efforts.”
The Director-General of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), Dr Melchior Athanase J.C. Aïssi said: “The collective determination and coordinated actions of ECOWAS member states is reflected in a recent health ministers’ resolution in Abuja in accelerating the elimination of NTDs and could serve as a model for other regions. The commendable leadership and multisector efforts have contributed to the progress achieved in the region.”
Recently, Benin and Mali were validated by the World Health Organization for successfully eliminating trachoma, a highly contagious bacterial infection that is the primary cause of infectious blindness globally.
Ghana holds the distinction of being the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma and joins Benin and Togo in having successfully eliminated at least three NTDs each.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said: “I am immensely proud of the remarkable progress we have made in combating NTDs in our region. We have shown that together, and with resilience, no challenge is insurmountable.
“Let us continue to push boundaries, strengthen partnerships, and leave no one behind in our pursuit of an NTD-free West Africa. The Kigali Declaration on NTDs, which Ghana is proud to have endorsed, provides the political framework for countries and partners to come together to deliver our global goals.”
On her part, the Representative of the WHO Regional Director for the African Region, said: “The African region has achieved some progress in the elimination of NTDs with twenty countries having eliminated at least one NTD.
“However, we know that more still needs to be done to improve living conditions and increase access to prevention and treatment of NTDs for our people. With the right investment, we will achieve elimination of all NTDs in our region and the ECOWAS region is showing that this is possible.”
“The collaborative efforts of ECOWAS member states have truly set a remarkable example in the fight against NTDs. By prioritizing resilience, innovation, and sustained commitment, we are charting a path towards a healthier and more prosperous Africa,” was the reaction of Dr Socé Fall, Director of WHO’s Global NTD Programme.
The recognition of ECOWAS’s achievement follows efforts at the continental level to eliminate NTDs. Development of the Continental Framework and Common Africa Position on NTDs, which acts as a strategic guide in the fight against NTDs, has led to calls for increased national funding in order to eliminate these diseases by 2030.