German commitment to the Expanded Special Project for the Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN)

Ensuring progress by combating neglected tropical diseases

Berlin, 29.05.2024 - “We are on the right track. Over the past three years, we have focused with our German partner on integrating the One Health approach and supporting ESPEN's regional approach,” said Elisabeth Juma, Team Lead for the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN).

At a webinar focusing on the work of ESPEN, organized by the German Network against Neglected Tropical Diseases (DNTDs), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and its implementing organization, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), national and international stakeholders supporting the WHO program discussed the work of ESPEN.

Elisabeth Juma went on to explain that the future challenges for ESPEN are continuous funding and the integration of NTD control into existing national health programs. The fight against female schistosomiasis (FGS), for example, should be embedded in sexual and reproductive health programs or cancer programs (e.g. cervical screening). Another important issue, according to Juma, is access: “Some medicines are available, but people do not have access. If, for example, young women no longer attend school, they do not receive NTD medication from the state-supported mass treatment programs, as these are mainly carried out in schools.

Daniel Eibach, BMZ, emphasized how important the gender approach is in the area of global health. It is primarily women who are affected by diseases, especially neglected tropical diseases and their effects. He cited female genital schistosomiasis as an example. Without a special focus on women, the sustainability goals and the WHO roadmap for the elimination of NTDs could not be achieved.

Ruth Schumacher, GIZ, addressed the challenge of coordinating the One Health approach in partner countries with many stakeholders. She affirmed that Germany would like to remain an important partner alongside ESPEN and emphasized that the partnership approach is important. The programs can only be sustainable if national governments are also willing to invest in health.

Girija Sankar, Head of NTD Programs, CBM Christian Blind Mission, used the example of South Sudan to describe how important and how difficult it is for people and animals to receive health care through the NTD programs. It is therefore essential that the local people are involved at community level and supported by them.

Paul Verlé, formerly of ENABEL, Institute for Tropical Medicine Belgium, used the great progress made in the fight against African sleeping sickness to demonstrate the need for good diagnostics, which is still lacking. This applies not only to sleeping sickness, but also to many other NTDs. Drugs that could treat 2-3 diseases at the same time would also be excellent.

The webinar was moderated by Achim Hörauf, Director of the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, University Hospital Bonn, spokesperson of the DNTDs.

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