Regional meeting on accelerating progress towards elimination of neglected tropical diseases in South-East Asia Region

25-27 April 2017, Jakarta, Indonesia

Your Excellency, Professor Nila Farid Moeloek; Mr Mohammed Nasim, Minister of Health from Bangladesh; Dr Aishath Rameela, Minister of State, Maldives; Dr Ana Isabel F.S. Soares, Vice Minister of Health, Timor-Leste; Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is our privilege to have you join this very important meeting.

Technical experts – national, regional and international – welcome.

NGOs, INGOs and partners, thank you for being here. Your work is much appreciated.

And to your Excellencies and national delegations, I express my sincere gratitude. Your leadership continues to be a standard bearer.

The diversity of skills, focus and experience here is remarkable. Indeed, it is our greatest asset in the struggle to eliminate Neglected Tropical Diseases from our Region.

When in the early 2000s WHO created the NTD grouping out of a string of separately managed diseases, three patterns defined the grouping’s criteria.

First, each disease was driven by poverty and marginalization, whether in remote rural areas or urban shantytowns.

Second, each was suffered by communities that lacked a political voice, meaning there was little momentum to lift their burden.

And third, each was insulated from the global health agenda and its focus on highly infectious diseases. Instead, NTDs caused hidden suffering within national borders and among select communities.

By definition, NTDs are a multidimensional problem; the health sector alone cannot solve them. By definition, they require innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

I am pleased we have the opportunity to share our diverse perspectives and experiences to accelerate progress towards our goal.

I am also pleased that we can build on recent momentum. As you know, WHO first published its roadmap against NTDs in 2012. Later that year a group of donors issued the London Declaration. In 2013 the World Health Assembly adopted the roadmap and recognized the Declaration.

We have seen a tremendous increase in support since, including from partners and pharmaceutical companies. This has helped ensure millions of people can enjoy the future they deserve – one free from the deformities, disabilities, and emotional pain NTDs bring.


WHO South-East Asia is committed to this goal. With your support, in 2014 we made the battle against NTDs a regional health priority and a flagship programme.

Though South-East Asia carries the second highest NTD burden globally, our progress has been significant: In the last year alone India was declared yaws-free, and Maldives and Sri Lanka were validated to have eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem. Thailand is expected to do the same later this year, while Nepal is due to undergo validation of trachoma elimination.

More generally, our Region continues to undertake the largest preventive chemotherapy campaign in the world. This is something we can be proud of.

With your continued commitment I look forward to making further gains. Indeed, we are well positioned to do so: Quite apart from our NTD-specific plans and programmes, the Sustainable Development Goals provide an effective framework for success.

This is because the SDGs emphasize the interrelated nature of health and development. As I described earlier, the biosocial components of NTDs are a key reason for their persistence. A broad, multidimensional approach to them is needed, and is something the SDGs encourage.

Importantly, the SDGs also take our commitment beyond 2020, the endpoint of the current NTD plan. As per the WHO roadmap for NTDs, lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis, leprosy and schistosomiasis are to be eliminated by 2020. Yaws is targeted for eradication in the same timeframe.

The SDG framework ensures that our commitment to leaving no one behind outlasts these targets, and stimulates a mindset attuned to the needs of society’s most vulnerable.

Such a mindset is vitally important if we are to succeed: Despite our progress, the task before us remains immense.

In each of the Region’s countries at least one of the 17 NTDs is endemic.

In nine of the Region’s countries lymphatic filariasis is endemic, with Bhutan and DPR Korea the only countries spared.

Visceral leishmaniasis – or kala-azar – is endemic in Bangladesh, Nepal and India with sporadic cases occurring in Bhutan and Thailand.

And a large number of leprosy cases continue to be reported: In 2015, the Region accounted for 74% of global leprosy incidence, and 75% of the world’s child leprosy incidence. The number of grade 2 disability cases also remains high, indicating ongoing transmission and late detection of leprosy patients.

I appreciate your efforts to overcome these challenges. There nevertheless remains plenty of scope to enhance our operational and programmatic capacities.

First, on lymphatic filariasis: Where mass drug administration is failing to sustain low transmission, in some settings additional resources and effort is required. This applies across the Region, but especially in parts of Indonesia and India.

Second, on yaws: Where progress is less-than-optimal, programmes should be strengthened and resolve fortified. Indonesia and Timor-Leste each have the opportunity to scale up their efforts and achieve the national target of eradicating yaws by 2020.

Third, on schistosomiasis: Multisectoral solutions – including agro-engineering – should be pursued and fresh thinking embraced. The benefits of doing so will see rapid gains accrue. These will go beyond public health, and will stimulate wider economic growth and development.

And fourth, on surveillance: Across the Region, IT infrastructure and technology should be adopted and integrated with existing systems. Programme managers and senior leadership should have real-time data at their fingertips, enabling quick and timely interventions where needed.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Together we are working towards our time-bound disease elimination targets.

We are committed. We are focused. We are ready.

Indeed, I very much appreciate your enthusiasm to accelerate progress, and your shared commitment to avoid missing even one of your targets. I also appreciate your resolve to sustain political leadership and allocate adequate financial and human resources to this cause.

As I have outlined, the pursuit of universal health coverage, poverty reduction and other Sustainable Development Goals will help us on our way. Most of the Region’s countries are now lower- or upper-middle income and are expected to invest more in the health of their people. NTD elimination is one way to measure the quality and efficacy of this investment.

I am proud to reiterate WHO’s full commitment to support and work with you to ensure we achieve each one of the NTD targets.

We will continue to advocate for additional resources; we will continue to provide technical support; and we will continue to coordinate with drug donors and other partners to bring innovation and new technologies to your programmes.

I must, however, be clear on this point: Leadership and ownership of national programmes is ultimately the responsibility of Member States. The final push must come from within.

With that in mind I very much appreciate your Call to Action and the commitment it speaks of. I thank each of you for your attendance and engagement at this meeting, and appreciate your desire to make the most of this opportunity.

I also want to thank donors and partners for your commitment and ongoing support. Without the millions of tablets and funding you mobilize we would not have made the progress we see today. I am confident you will continue to work with us and consider increasing the resources available to help South-East Asia become the first WHO region to achieve NTD elimination.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I wish you an engaging, informative and productive few days.

Through our shared commitment and action we can lift the NTD burden. We can assert in practice, not just in word, that NTDs have no place in today’s world. And we can ensure society’s poorest, most marginalized groups are at the center of health, development and progress across our Region forever more.

Thank you very much.