Togo has been praised by the World Health Organization for becoming the first country in the world to eliminate four neglected tropical diseases.
The WHO presented the west African country with an outstanding achievement award this week for eliminating Guinea worm, lymphatic filariasis, sleeping sickness and trachoma in just 11 years.
“Togo has achieved a major feat,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s 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.”
The country eliminated Guinea worm in 2011, then became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to stamp out lymphatic filariasis, in 2017, and sleeping sickness, in 2020. This year, it successfully eliminated trachoma.
Togo’s president, Faure Gnassingbé, said: “Health is a priority that we have placed at the heart of our development policies.”
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a group of 20 preventable, treatable conditions that are often left out of health budgets and global funding priorities.
Efforts to control or eradicate the diseases were ramped up in 2012 when 100 donor countries, private philanthropists, pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and civil society organizations came together to endorse the London declaration to control or eliminate 10 NTDs by 2020.
Since 2012, 46 countries have been eliminated at least one NTD and more than 14bn treatments have been donated by pharmaceutical companies.
Three months ago, world leaders meeting in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, reconfirmed their commitments and agreed to eradicating NTDs by 2030.
About 1.7 billion people around the world are still affected by NTDs, which can disfigure and disable, trapping individuals and whole communities in cycles of extreme poverty.
About 40% of people affected by NTDs live in Africa. The number of people requiring treatment for at least one disease on the continent is slowly falling. In 2015, 630 million people were in need of treatment; by 2020 the figure had reduced to 598 million.
Thoko Elphick-Pooley, the director of the global partnership Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, said Togo’s success was due to “committed country and political ownership”. “I hope that leaders across Africa are inspired by the incredible actions taken by Togo to transform the health of its citizens,” she added.
Last year, the organization warned that UK government aid cuts could have a devastating impact on progress to tackle NTDs.