Spotlight on NTDs at 33rd African Union Summit in Niger

Leaders of NTD Side Event at 33rd African Union Summit. Photo: Speak Up Africa
Leaders of NTD side event at 33rd African Union Summit. Photo: Speak Up Africa

Excitement always runs high when it’s time for the African Union Summit, and this year, the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit in Niamey, Niger, held on July 4-8, 2019, was particularly important for the neglected tropical diseases (NTD) community. While on the surface, economics and trade—the AU mainstays—may not seem very related to NTDs, keeping citizens healthy is necessary for solid national and regional economic growth.

To raise awareness on this connection between NTDs and economic growth and trade, Niger’s Ministry of Public Health and the Guri Foundation partnered with Speak Up Africa to organize a high-level conference on the “No to Neglected Tropical Diseases” movement, which aims to reduce the burden of neglected tropical diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Held at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Niamey on July 7, under the High Patronage of His Excellency Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, President of the Republic of Niger, and chaired by the First Lady of Niger, Her Excellency Mrs. Aïssata Issoufou, First Lady of Niger and Guri Foundation president, the conference was also attended by the First Ladies of Burkina Faso, Congo, Chad and the Queen of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). The event provided an opportunity for speakers to discuss the challenges and collaborative strategies to accelerate progress in the fight against neglected tropical diseases.

In his opening statement, President Mahamadou Issoufou underlined the importance that the Nigerien government places on health, particularly through the implementation of Niger's renewed public health program. "I support you because health is a priority issue for us, investing in health is investing in development, because in a country, healthy citizens are positive and competitive citizens," added the President. "I tell you in advance that I love it and I agree with your insights," he concluded. 

As for the First Lady, now Niger’s NTD spokeswoman, H.E. Mrs. Issoufou encouraged African leaders at the highest levels to personally commit to the fight against NTDs. "Any progress, especially in the countries most affected by neglected tropical diseases, depends on strong and coherent national leadership and regional coordination to ensure that all people, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, have access to quality health services and methods of NTD prevention.” She also stressed the need for new and innovative approaches.

Three days prior to the conference, the Government of Niger set up the first national multisectoral coalition to combat NTDs, which aims to strengthen coordination among partners, maximize the mobilization of available financial and technical resources, and diversify partners working towards the elimination of NTDs. The First Ladies in attendance have additionally committed to use their full political clout to increase funding and visibility of the fight against NTDs.

USAID’s Act to End NTDs | West program, managed by FHI 360 and implemented in Niger and Burkina Faso by Helen Keller International, supports 11 countries in West and Central Africa to strengthen their national NTD programs and conduct integrated, nationwide mass drug administration and other NTD-related activities.