Lords Debate on Neglected Tropical Diseases July 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of progress made in combating neglected tropical diseases following publication of the Fifth Progress Report on the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases.

My Lords, given that there is another major attraction this evening, I am very grateful to noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in this debate.

The neglected tropical diseases are a group of 20 bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic diseases—to which snake-bite has recently been added—which affect more than a billion people a year in some of the poorest countries of the world. Recognition of their importance as a burden on health in those countries was enhanced by bringing them together under the term “neglected tropical diseases”, which we shall call NTDs, and was further strengthened by the London declaration of 2012. I shall try to limit my use of lots of names, for I fear Hansard might get apoplexy dealing with visceral leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis and the like. Suffice it to say that the colloquial names of those diseases vividly convey their consequences, such as elephantiasis, river blindness, or the appalling biblical disease of leprosy, which is still prevalent in many poor countries.

A key feature of the NTDs is high morbidity, with chronic disability, disfigurement, social stigma and long-term loss of health affecting the poorest members of society. NTDs are a result of poverty, but in a malignant circle they are a cause of poverty, because they reduce the potential of millions of people to improve their economic well-being.?

While chronic disease is a feature, some NTDs cause considerable mortality. For example, snake-bite is estimated to kill about 100,000 people a year. We are also beginning to understand the important role that NTDs play in predisposing to a range of other significant health problems, such as mental ill health, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and cancer, among others. While the impact of NTDs is huge, in many cases we have the tools available to tackle them so that, given the will and the funding, we can do a great deal about their impact now.

The London declaration of 2012 focused specifically on 10 NTDs for which there are drugs available and which could be tackled by mass drug administration, which I shall refer to as MDA. That has been facilitated by donation of key drugs by several pharmaceutical companies, and the scale and significance of this is massive. Arguably, this is the greatest philanthropic gesture by industry to benefit the global public good there has ever been. Some $2 billion to $3 billion-worth of drugs is donated annually and in 2016 more than a billion treatments were donated in 130 countries.

Another important development has been the linking of NTDs to the achievement of the sustainable development goals. MDA is a great example of universal health coverage and tackling NTDs will contribute greatly to the achievement of the SDGs, especially SDG 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Conversely, the attainment of other SDGs, such as the water and sanitation objectives of SDG 6, will contribute hugely to NTD control.

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