ALMA congratulates Benin and Mali for eliminating trachoma as a public health problem

Published: 17 May 2023

The African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) joins the global community in celebrating Benin and Mali for receiving World Health Organization (WHO) validation for eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide.

According to WHO, more than a billion people are affected by Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) globally. Africa accounts for nearly 40% (400 million people) of the global burden and is hence disproportionately affected by the debilitating effects of this set of 20 diseases compared to other parts of the world.

The global NTD roadmap for 2021-2030 aims to reduce by 90% the number of people requiring treatment for these diseases, ensure that at least 100 countries eliminate at least one neglected tropical disease, eradicate two diseases (Guinea worm and yaws), and reduce disability related to these diseases by 75%.

Benin and Mali’s achievements demonstrate Africa’s ongoing progress towards elimination goals. Mali, in particular, celebrates a significant milestone as trachoma becomes the first NTD eliminated in the country, with a focus on eliminating lymphatic filariasis (LF) by 2025. Benin’s national programme for Infectious Disease Control aims for the elimination of LF, onchocerciasis, and trachoma, as well as the control of schistosomiasis and Soil-transmitted Helminths (STH). The elimination of trachoma thus marks a significant milestone for Benin, which has already eliminated two other NTDs: dracunculiasis in 2009 and gambiense human African trypanosomiasis in 2021.

Despite this progress, Africa’s fight against NTDs still faces critical challenges, with the availability of adequate resources being a key issue. NTD programmes across the continent suffer from chronic underfunding, exacerbated by the redirection of funds and programme disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainable progress towards 2030 can only be achieved through a steady flow of financial resources to support activities at global, regional, and national levels.

As such, it is crucial for world leaders to honor the commitments made at the 2022 Kigali Summit for Malaria and NTDs, and for more leaders to join with a sense of urgency in supporting NTD programmes. ALMA remains dedicated to this cause by supporting African Union Member States to establish End Malaria and NTD Councils to drive domestic resource mobilisation through multisectoral collaboration. Guinea Bissau’s recent launch of Africa’s first such integrated council sets a positive example for other countries to adopt.

Similarly, NTD-related innovation plays a crucial role in driving progress by introducing new treatment approaches, making it a priority to achieve the roadmap targets. Despite this, outdated 19th-century diagnostics tools are still being used in the 21st century. The COVID-19 pandemic served as a significant learning experience, highlighting the potential for rapid development of life-saving solutions and diagnostics through solidarity and collaboration. As such, it is imperative that we maintain this momentum and collectively strive towards the prevention, control, and elimination of NTDs.

ALMA is committed to supporting the realisation of the 2030 elimination targets including by collaborating with member states to develop NTD scorecards for accountability and action. To-date, ALMA has supported the implementation of NTD scorecards in 17 countries across the continent. These scorecards allow countries to use real time data to track progress, identify obstacles, and take appropriate action to enhance the delivery of health interventions. This concerted effort will accelerate global and regional progress in overcoming NTDs and bringing us closer to our goals.