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Let’s Lead a Bold Vision for the Future

Today, for the first time, the world is celebrating World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day.

This is an historic moment uniting more than 250 partners worldwide to call for greater commitment to and investment in combating a group of age-old “diseases of poverty” that affect one in five people on the planet.

Helen Keller International commends the tremendous advances the global health community has achieved since the 2012 London Declaration on NTDs, a pivotal moment in public health that united governments, donors, pharmaceutical companies, and civil society organizations to mobilize resources and commit to achieving ambitious goals.

Neglected Tropical Diseases – or NTDs – cause blindness, painful physical deformities, and disabilities that trigger great stigma and limit people’s ability to earn income and fulfill their potential. These diseases are preventable, but they disproportionately affect the world’s poorest, most marginalized people who lack access to basic health care. Prevalence of NTDs in vulnerable communities can perpetuate a cycle of poverty, limiting economic opportunities and contributing to other health problems.

Since the upsurge in investment and commitment inspired by the London Declaration in 2012, we have seen unprecedented leadership from the World Health Organization, local leaders and governments of affected countries, and major donor agencies. We have also seen the transformative impact of donations of vital drugs from pharmaceutical companies—reinforced by the mobilization of funding and expertise from the private sector and coordinated action from international development organizations and civil society.

In a relatively brief period, this initiative has become one of the largest, most successful public health movements in history. In 2018 alone, over one billion people were treated for at least one of the NTDs targeted for control and/or elimination.

Yet, today, almost 1.5 billion people remain at risk.

Today, one in five people alive is at risk of being affected by neglected tropical diseases.

Despite the scale of the threat impacting the world’s poorest communities, global funding to treat, control, and eliminate NTDs remains inadequate, especially in comparison to the resources allocated by major donor agencies to address communicable diseases.

Helen Keller, our co-founder, envisioned a world without barriers to human potential. Guided by her fierce optimism, we have been working to fight NTDs for more than 50 years and provide support to local leaders and partners in communities where the needs are greatest.

In 2020 alone, Helen Keller will support countries to distribute over 30 million doses of drugs to treat NTDs. We are leading efforts to eliminate trachoma in Mali and Niger through a partnership funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Since 2009, Helen Keller has supported almost 10,000 sight-saving trichiasis surgeries in Mali and almost 20,000 in Niger. Through the USAID MMDP project, we screened more than 2 million people for trichiasis and saved the sight of 76,000 people with trichiasis surgery. Our programs provided treatment to thousands more people infected with lymphatic filariasis.

Helen Keller is a partner in the USAID-funded Act to End NTDs | West* consortium led by FHI 360, which supports 11 countries in West Africa to achieve their goals in controlling and eliminating NTDs. We are thrilled to be part of this exciting partnership and to be working in solidarity with country leadership to advance momentum in eliminating these diseases.

In an effort to accelerate global commitment to beat NTDs, a high-level Global Summit on Malaria and NTDs, hosted by the Government of Rwanda, will take place in Kigali on June 25, 2020, bringing together government, private, and multi-sector leaders to galvanize renewed progress and bold action against malaria and the elimination of NTDs. We urge world leaders to invest in new and better tools to improve treatment, interrupt disease transmission, and to direct resources where they are needed most.

In 2020, no human being—no matter where she lives—should lose her life, or experience blindness, disability, or disfigurement as a result of a neglected tropical disease that we know how to prevent at a very low cost.

Success is within our reach. In the words of Helen Keller herself, let us “look bravely” into the future and commit ourselves to beating NTDs. For good. For all.


*USAID’s Act to End NTDs | West program, led by FHI 360, aims to control or eliminate seven of the most prevalent neglected tropical diseases in 11 countries across West and Central Africa. The consortium of partners includes Helen Keller International, Health Development International, Deloitte, World Vision, Americares and the AIM Initiative.