Yesterday, Togo received an outstanding achievement award as the first ever country globally to eliminate four NTDs during the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa meeting held in Lomé. Between 2011 and 2022, Togo has successfully eliminated dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease), elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and trachoma.
NTDs are a group of 20 diseases which are preventable and treatable, but 1.7 billion people around the world still require NTD interventions. Many NTDs debilitate, disfigure and disable. By preventing children from going to school and adults from being able to work, NTDs trap individuals and whole communities in cycles of extreme poverty.
Togo has demonstrated a remarkable record of success. As the first country acknowledged by WHO as having won its fight against four NTDs, it eliminated all four diseases in a span of just eleven years. Togo previously achieved transmission-free status for Guinea worm disease in 2011. In 2017, it became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate elephantiasis as a public health problem and, in 2020, became the first African country to achieve the same status with sleeping sickness.
H.E. Faure Gnassingbé, the President of Togo said, “I thank you for your appreciation of my country’s achievements in the elimination of neglected tropical diseases. This progress has been made possible thanks to the dedication and commitment of all health actors who are working at all levels in our country to preserve this precious good that is health. Health is a priority that we have placed at the heart of our development policies. One of the ambitions of the government’s roadmap to 2025 is to guarantee health coverage and access to basic services for all.”
To eliminate these diseases, Togo adopted a two-pronged approach that focused on first, interrupting transmission and preventing occurrence of new infections; and secondly, treating or managing diseases, their associated morbidity, and their complications, to alleviate suffering.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General said, “The elimination of dracunculiasis, lymphatic filariasis, human African trypanosomiasis and trachoma is an outstanding achievement, and a gift not only for the people of Togo today, but for generations to come.”
In June earlier this year, the WHO also endorsed and signed the landmark Kigali Declaration on NTDs. The Kigali Declaration is a high-level political declaration which is mobilising political will and securing commitments to achieve the global targets set out in the WHO NTD Road Map 2021-2030 and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target on NTDs. The Kigali Declaration, launched by H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, has already secured the largest ever financial commitment for NTDs to date. The Declaration prioritizes putting country ownership of NTD programmes, integration and cross-sectoral collaboration front and centre, to ensure that these programmes are sustainable in the long term.
“Togo has achieved a major feat by becoming the first country in Africa to eliminate four neglected tropical diseases,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. This achievement is an example for the rest of Africa and shows what is possible when health is made a priority.”
Eliminating NTDs is at the core of strengthening health systems across endemic countries. To date, 46 countries have eliminated at least one NTD, 600 million people no longer require treatment for NTDs, and cases of diseases that have plagued humanity for centuries, such as sleeping sickness and Guinea worm disease, are at an all-time low.
Executive Director of Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, Thoko Elphick-Pooley said: “Togo’s achievement is an important milestone for Africa and the global health community, demonstrating that ending NTDs is possible. Central to this success has been committed country and political ownership, and I hope that leaders across Africa are inspired by the incredible actions taken by Togo to transform the health of its citizens.”