Together We Can Build on Progress to End Neglected Tropical Diseases

By Eliza Johnson, Senior Project Manager Panorama

When I was a college student, I traveled to Zambia to study informal economies and individual livelihoods along the Great East Road between Katete and Chipata. I was particularly enamored with the dynamics of the thriving second-hand clothing street markets, where one can pick up a well-loved flannel or a losing team’s championship-winning t-shirt. When I enlisted a translator named Mousa to interview locals about working at the markets, I was warned that he had elephantiasis in his hands, rendering him visibly disabled.

In between interviews, we talked about how having a physical disability had affected his productivity and life choices. While many rural Zambians grow their own food and do their own manual labor, Mousa had to find creative alternatives to take care of himself and his family, which led him to become a translator and travel guide for English-speaking researchers like me. Mousa had a great sense of humor and was a delightful partner for my research.

My experience working with Mousa has stuck with me throughout my career. Years later, when I transitioned to working in global health, I had the opportunity to work on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Having made a personal connection with someone whose life was disrupted by such a disease, I have since continued to commit my time to defeating NTDs.

Now that I am working at Panorama, I am proud to partner with the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN), a project to eliminate five of the most prevalent NTDs. ESPEN is based out of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa, and coordinates NTD control and elimination activities across the African continent, fortifying national disease control programs and aiming to achieve 100% geographical coverage for communities needing treatment.

Panorama is pleased to support ESPEN to help reach their resource mobilization goals and bring partners together to fund and advance ESPEN’s ambitious work. We have secured initial funding from generous donors and are fostering robust long-term partnerships to help ESPEN eliminate these diseases.

That’s why I was so excited to see the Economist recently highlight Sierra Leone’s incredible progress towards ending NTDs, despite being one of the world’s poorest countries.

The piece, “How Sierra Leone is beating tropical diseases,” delved into how Sierra Leone has pulled off this extraordinary feat more effectively than almost anywhere else in Africa. NTDs affect 1.5 billion people, impairing development in children and keeping the most marginalized communities and conflict areas trapped in poverty.

Sierra Leone offers a clear success story in controlling and eliminating NTDs. ESPEN leads the way for many more countries to follow suit. With continued support, ESPEN will empower national NTD programs with the data, expertise, and financial resources they need to protect vulnerable communities and defeat neglected tropical diseases.

NTDS are solvable if national programs are able to keep up this work. I look forward to the day when NTDs are defeated and the challenges Mousa faced are a thing of the past.