NTD NGO Network statement in response to UK aid cuts

Date: 12 May 2021

The NTD NGO Network (NNN) is deeply concerned by the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s decision to make significant cuts to funding for global health and development initiatives, including investments in the control, elimination, and eradication of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs are a diverse group of diseases affecting over one billion of the world’s poorest populations, with devastating effects on human and economic development.

The UK is globally recognised for its role in and championing of global efforts to strengthen health systems in resource-challenged contexts. The UK Government’s global leadership is demonstrated in its efforts to advance global development, research, innovation, strategic partnerships, and disease elimination efforts. 

In 2019, during our annual conference hosted in Liverpool, UK, the NNN was proud to welcome the UK Government’s announcement of a new flagship program for NTDs with a crucial investment of £220 million to 2022 that solidified the UK’s reputation as a leader in the global health and development sector over the last two decades. 

The UK Government’s withdrawal of over £150 million from NTD programmes risks the delay of over 251 million disability-preventing treatments, leveraging 770 million donated medicines worth roughly £800 million, which are life-saving to millions of children. This is a devastating let down to the tens of thousands of community volunteers who implement the community-wide drug distribution campaigns and risk the weakening of a public health infrastructure already threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For example, Guinea worm is poised to be the second human disease to be eradicated, after smallpox. The UK Government’s steadfast support for Guinea worm eradication over the years has contributed to a 99.99% reduction in disease burden. Loss of funding to the Guinea worm eradication programme comes at a critical time in the global campaign. Slowing the pace could cause unnecessary setbacks and have devastating impacts on the poorest communities in the world.

The cuts to NTD interventions will have a knock-on effect on critical public-private partnerships with industry that have mobilized billions of doses of treatment over the years, and with philanthropic donors. These partnerships have been crucial in supporting primary health care infrastructure, drug supply chain, and public health capacity. Additional cuts to water, sanitation and hygiene interventions, and other global health and nutrition initiatives will further increase the risk of disease transmission and resurgence.

The United Kingdom, like most other countries, has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts are an unfortunate consequence. However, the aid cuts undermine the work of millions of grassroots health workers and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to serve endemic communities. 

Prior to the cuts, UK-supported NTD programmes had enabled public health authorities in affected countries to adapt existing health infrastructures to pivot to COVID-19 response efforts, a welcome move that is now at risk. 

On World NTD Day in January 2021, the British Prime Minister stated that the ‘UK fully supports the World Health Organization’s [NTD] road map to 2030 and its ambition to protect everyone from pain, disfigurement and poverty caused by NTDs’. Now is not the time for the United Kingdom to withdraw funding from NTDs, nor the global health and development sector, as this decision also imperils the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals target 3.3 which calls for the elimination of NTDs.

The NNN calls on the UK to continue to support and sustain the gains from investments to date that have achieved remarkable progress in the elimination of NTDs. The NNN and its members will continue to work with endemic country governments to support critical NTD interventions even as we acknowledge that the UK cuts in overseas development assistance will threaten achievable disease elimination targets in countries that have benefited greatly from the UK’s support.  

Kisito Ogoussan
NNN Chair

Arielle Dolegui 
NNN Vice-Chair

Yaobi Zhang
NNN Immediate Past Chair