Countries in the WHO South-East Asian Region including India today resolved to fast-track efforts to eradicate and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTD) such as leprosy, lymphatic filariasis and kala-azar by 2020.
These diseases, the global health body said, affect the most marginalised and neglected population, pushing them further into poverty and a life marred by deformity and stigma.
Among the six WHO regions, South-East Asia continues to bear the second highest burden of NTDs.
It has the highest burden of lymphatic filariasis, accounting for 53 per cent of global population requiring preventive chemotherapy.
The region also accounts for 74 per cent of new leprosy cases reported globally, nearly 41 per cent of global kala- azar cases and 42 per cent of children who require preventive chemotherapy for soil-transmitted helminths.
Adopting a ‘Call for Action’ at a high-level ministerial meeting in Jakarta, the member countries pledged according the highest priority to accelerating efforts against NTDs.
“WHO South-East Asia made the battle against NTDs a regional health priority and a flagship programme in 2014. We are seeing significant progress.
“Last year alone India was declared yaws-free, and Maldives and Sri Lanka eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem. Our region continues to undertake the largest preventive chemotherapy campaign in the world,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, the WHO SEAR.
The call stressed on promoting innovation and research to improve surveillance, diagnosis and treatment for further reducing NTD diseases burden.
The member countries also pledged to increase monetary and human resources in a sustainable manner, to meet newer challenges as NTDs get increasing confined to smaller geographical pockets, closer to elimination.
The WHO South-East Asia Region is targeting elimination of lymphatic filariasis, kala-azar, schistosomiasis, trachoma and leprosy as a public health problem and is also seeking to end yaws.
Out of the nine countries endemic for lymphatic filariasis (LF) in the region, Maldives and Sri Lanka have eliminated the disease as a public health problem.
Thailand and Bangladesh have completed mass drug administration (key initiative for LF elimination) in all endemic areas, while India became the first country globally to be verified for yaws elimination and formally acknowledged to be yaws free in 2016.
The region is closer to achieving elimination of kala- azar as a public health problem, the health body said.
The Jakarta Call also sought innovative approaches to increase community participation and monitor progress on a real time basis at the lowest possible administrative level and introduce new tools as soon as they are made available.
“Though more countries are getting closer to eliminating various NTDs, challenges remain, which need to be dealt with on a priority,” the Regional Director said.