The project brings hope to millions of people at risk from these diseases. It will ultimately contribute to poverty alleviation, increased productivity and improved quality of life for the affected people in the Region," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Over the past two decades, countries in the Region have through the APOC programme made progress in tackling onchocerciasis. Through large-scale administration of ivermectin using community distributors, the APOC significantly contributed to the reduction of onchocerciasis in the Region.
The African Region bears about 40% of the global burden of NTDs and the creation of ESPEN will oversee and support accelerated action against all NTDs that respond to preventive chemotherapy (PC-NTDs). It also comes as the mandate of the African Programme for the Control of Onchocerciasis (APOC) draws to a close on 31 December 2015. ESPEN will have a life span of five years from 2016 to 2020.
Operating as an integral part of WHO, ESPEN would have a broader mandate, compared to the one disease focus of APOC. It will ensure that the gains made over the past decades on the control of river blindness are sustained. It will also provide technical support for expanding large-scale administration of medicines (also known as mass drug administration-MDA) particularly for elephantiasis.
All the 47 countries of the Region are endemic for at least two NTDs and ESPEN requires an annual budget of USD 10 million to support its operations. The Health Ministers committed to advocate with national governments and partners to ensure that the needed funds are secured to support ESPEN and country programmes. Countries were called upon to make financial contributions to the operations of ESPEN. It is expected that ESPEN will be officially launched in the second quarter of 2016.
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