Rwanda to host first-ever Global Summit on Malaria and NTDs on the sidelines of CHOGM 2020

By Jean d’Amour Mugabo

Rwanda has launched preparatory activities to host the first ever Global Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which is slated for June 25, 2020 on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali.

The Kigali Summit on Malaria and NTDs aims to call on world leaders to meet the CHOGM 2018 pledge to halve malaria by 2023 and deliver the political and financial commitments of $1.5bn to end the scourge of neglected tropical diseases.

Announcing the summit at a meeting held in Kigali on Monday, Rwanda’s Minister of Health,Dr Diane Gashumba, said the Kigali Summit on Malaria and NTDs will be the first formal gathering to bring united global attention and calls-to-action to ending these preventable yet often deadly diseases that have plagued humans for thousands of years.

According to the statement issued at the meeting, half the world is at risk of malaria. Each year more than 200 million people get sick and over 400,000 die from malaria, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 1.5 billion people – one in five people alive today – are at risk of neglected tropical diseases, a group of 20 diseases including elephantiasis, sleeping sickness, leprosy, blinding trachoma and intestinal worms that debilitate, disfigure, disable, and can kill, even though delivering treatments can cost as little as 50 cents per person per year.

“All these diseases thrive in areas of poverty and strike hardest against the most vulnerable – women, particularly when they are pregnant, children under five, and people living in remote, underserved communities,” reads the statement.

Minister Gashumba said it is unacceptable that billions of people around the world continue to suffer and, too often, die from malaria and neglected tropical diseases.

“These diseases are preventable, treatable and curable. The incredible progress against malaria and neglected tropical diseases is proof of what can be done with the resources at one’s disposal, relevant policies, and a great deal of commitment. We can – and must – do more to ensure our youth, our communities and our countries aren’t held back by these diseases of poverty and inequality,” she said.

Half the world is malaria-free and other 49 countries are within reach of elimination, including China, El Salvador, Malaysia, Cabo Verde and Eswatini. Since 2012, 31 countries have eliminated one of the ten NTDs included in the London Declaration, eight of them in Africa. These include Ghana which eliminated Guinea worm in 2015 and blinding trachoma in 2018.

Speaking at a meeting in Kigali, Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, Chief Executive Officer of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, one of the two major disease coalitions supporting the June Summit, said Commonwealth countries make up over half of all malaria cases and deaths globally.

“The Kigali Summit will be a crucial moment for leaders to take stock of the progress countries are making towards delivering on the Commonwealth leaders’ commitment made in London two years ago to halve malaria by 2023. There are 650,000 lives dependent on the achievement of this commitment and it is vital to the global elimination targets set for 2030. We will be urging leaders from across the Commonwealth, and beyond, to accelerate action to reach zero malaria,” he said.

Mrs Thoko Elphick-Pooley, Director of Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, another main coalition supporting the Summit said 2020 will be a monumental year to set the global agenda and power the progress against NTDs which affect one in five people in the world.

“It starts in Kigali, just ahead of the first ever World Day for Neglected Tropical Diseases on 30th January and will lead us to the launch of the upcoming World Health Organization’s NTD 2030 road map in June and a global response. I hope that by the end of this year we can truly say we have secured the necessary political will and leadership to ensure that these diseases can no longer be neglected. We have a real opportunity for action and success,” she said, adding, “We call on partners to join our global movement to end NTDs.”

 It is estimated that only 0.6% of global healthcare funding is allocated for controlling NTDs. An expected outcome of the Kigali Summit is an ‘NTD Declaration’ galvanizing countries to deliver political commitments and to mobilise new financial commitments of US$1.5 billion to accelerate progress towards the total costs of delivering the upcoming WHO NTD 2030 road map.

The Kigali Summit on Malaria & NTDs will capitalize on the presence of heads of state of countries that represent almost two-thirds of the malaria and NTDs burden, as well as major donors and partners working to end these diseases.

Since 2000, global efforts have saved 7 million lives from malaria and prevented more than 1 billion new infections. According to the most recent World Health Organization data, half the world’s population continues to be at risk of malaria with 405,000 deaths from malaria and 228 million cases of malaria recorded in 2018 while 11 countries (10 in Africa plus India) account for approximately 70% of global malaria burden.

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