Leading philanthropists as well as African and European governments have announced more than $150m to tackle neglected tropical diseases largely unknown in western countries, but which affect 1.5 billion people – or one in five on the planet.
The announcements to fund the prevention and treatment of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) were made at a star-studded festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, co-hosted by the Government of South Africa, the House of Mandela, Motsepe Foundation, and the activist network Global Citizen.
The event, called Mandela100 to honour Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon, in what is the centenary year of his birth, featured international artistes including Femi Kuti, Sho Madjozi, Beyonce, JAY-Z, Usher, Ed Sheeran, D’Banj, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, amongst others. As with other Global Citizen events, it was a unique mixture of fantastic music, speeches by politicians and messages about how to solve some of the problems of the world.
The festival was hosted by South African comedian and activist Trevor Noah.
NTDs such as blinding trachoma, river blindness and intestinal worms overwhelmingly affect the poorest and most marginalised people living in areas without running water or adequate sanitation. They stop children going to school and can rob adults of their most productive years of life. Great progress has been made in efforts against the diseases. Thanks to treatment, half a billion people no longer need interventions for NTDs. But one and a half billion are still in need of help.
Total commitments worth over $7 billion dollars to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals were also announced.
$105 million came from: a group of funders from The Audacious Project who announced their commitment through global entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. The Audacious Project, hosted by TED, brings together philanthropists committed to turn transformative ideas into action.
The commitments were made by: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the government of Mozambique; the governments of Belgium and Botswana; and a consortium of private donors associated with the philanthropic venture the END Fund.
Thanks to pharmaceutical companies donating medicines for NTDs for free, the over $150m pledged at the festival will unlock a total aid package worth many, many times this figure. For every aid dollar invested in the distribution of medicines, $26 worth of donated drugs will be leveraged, making this the largest public/private partnership in global health.
The money announced at the festival will treat and protect some 300 million people from the effects of these diseases based on an average cost of delivering the necessary drugs of 50 US Cents per treatment.
Community volunteer leads in festival
The part of the festival during which financial announcements for NTDs were made was opened by a community health volunteer from western Zambia, Precious Mukelabai. She is one of the thousands of dedicated community health volunteers around the world who work tirelessly connecting people with services.
Precious Mukelabai and her colleagues are an essential and critical component of fighting NTDs. Precious spoke movingly at the festival about her aunt who she recently helped connect with a surgeon who successfully operated on her eyes to prevent blindness.
The aunt had suffered from blinding trachoma, an NTD and the leading cause of infectious blindness in the world, for many years:
Details of commitments
Of the total announced at the festival, over $105m will be used to tackle blinding trachoma and infant mortality. Blinding trachoma is an extremely painful disease that causes eyelashes to turn inwards, scratching the eye with every blink. It is mainly prevalent in areas without clean running water or proper sanitation. If left untreated it can lead to irreversible blindness.
This funding to fight blinding trachoma was announced at the festival by the global entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson on behalf of a group of funders including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, The ELMA Foundation (UK), UK Aid and Virgin Unite.
The money will be used by the UK-based charity Sightsavers and a network of partners to support at least ten African countries in eliminating blinding trachoma as a public health problem and speed up progress against the disease in several other African nations.
The festival in Johannesburg included several interventions from politicians, including a short speech between musical items from the Prime Minister of Mozambique, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário. He announced a significant contribution from the government in Maputo for the fight against several NTDs.
Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário said:
“I am pleased to announce $6m to help the fight against river blindness, intestinal worms and elephantiasis. Together we can work to improve the health of everyone on our continent.”
A group of private sector philanthropists from countries around the world – including those endemic for NTDs like Zimbabwe and Nigeria – announced $15.5m to the total pledged at the festival. This money will allow the private philanthropic initiative, the END Fund, to continue its work investing in the fight against neglected tropical diseases.
Nigerian businessman Tope Lawani, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Helios Investment Partners, and END Fund International Board member said:
“A pledge of $15.5 million to combat neglected tropical diseases through the END Fund shows the private sector’s confidence in, and commitment to, the notion that beating these diseases is a cost-effective way to boost people’s health, education, and prosperity. As a Nigerian who is personally committed to this cause, I look forward to my fellow Africans joining me in this effort, which stands to help further unlock our continent’s potential.”
‘Matching funds’ double commitments
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been at the forefront of the fight against neglected tropical diseases for many years, announced a contribution of $17m to the World Health Organisation in Africa over five years to fight the five most common neglected diseases on the African continent.
Of this, $17m, $11m is reserved for what the aid community calls ‘match funding’. This means the Gates foundation will release the money if it is ‘matched’ (doubled) by another donor.
$5m has already been ‘matched’ by the government of Belgium. $6m is available for matching by other donors.
Finally, it was announced at the festival that the government of Botswana would prioritise the prevention and treatment of neglected tropical diseases and provide the domestic resources required to fully fund its NTD programme and reach elimination goals. This announcement was not specified in dollar terms but would be a significant sum.
The Vice President of Botswana, Slumber Tsogwane, said in Johannesburg:
‘In honour of Nelson Mandela I pledge on behalf of the government of Botswana to prioritise the prevention and treatment of all neglected tropical diseases and to provide the domestic resources necessary for their elimination. In line with this commitment, Botswana has begun the treatment of over 230,000 children in need of treatment for those diseases”.
Photo Credits: Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases | Marcus Perkins for GSK