Lord Sheikh’s speech in the House of Lords on Neglected Tropical Diseases
My Lords, I am interested in this subject as I was born and brought up in east Africa. I have seen how the diseases that we are discussing today affect the lives of people. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for initiating this debate.
I applaud this Government’s continued commitment to international aid. Combating disease is a crucial part of this programme. We are now marking the two-year anniversary of the historic London declaration on neglected tropical diseases. Neglected tropical diseases affect more than a billion people throughout the world. They often affect the poorest people in the hardest-to-reach areas. The combined personal and family suffering also translates into wider economic hardship, trapping communities in a cycle of poverty. Eliminating NTDs is thought to be one of the most cost-effective and comprehensive ways to achieve development goals and eliminate poverty. Therefore, it is important that work to combat NTDs is absorbed into wider-scale initiatives on poverty.
Prevention is also a key principle. Measures such as better health education, greater nutrition and the provision of safe drinking water will help to reduce cases in the first instance. We must celebrate the progress that has been made in a number of ways. We have made political progress. Last May, 32 countries took part in deliberations during which the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on all 17 neglected tropical diseases. This resolution calls for more effective financing and implementation of prevention and eradication programmes. It makes important references to increasing access to treatments. I am proud that the United Kingdom strongly supported this resolution and has pledged to continue playing an important role in this respect.
We have made progress on awareness. Neglected tropical diseases are receiving more coverage than ever before and are firmly on the international agenda. The engagement and generosity of pharmaceutical companies must also be noted. We now have all the treatments required to control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs. These account for over 90% of the global burden.
Although we have made progress, though, we must of course not be complacent. It is still necessary to further increase and maintain this progress if we are to reach our target. The millennium development goals expire in 2015. This provides us with a perfect opportunity to renew and accelerate the focus on eradicating NTDs. In its report last summer, the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda included the reduction of NTDs as part of its recommended goal of ensuring healthy lives.
In my view, the 2020 road map for the elimination of at least 10 diseases by the end of the decade is firmly in sight. It is very ambitious but I believe that it can, and I hope will, be achieved.