The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially handed over notification certificate to Ghana for eliminating Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) as a public health problem.

Human African Trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, is a vector-borne parasitic disease caused by protozoans of the genus Trypanosoma, transmitted to humans by bites of tsetse flies (glossina).

This brings the total number of eliminated Neglected Tropical Diseases in the country to three, which includes Trachoma and Guinea Worm.

The WHO Country office presented the certificate to Ghana at the launch of the 2024 World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) day celebration held in Adeiso in the Eastern Region.

The Day, which is celebrated on January 30 annually, seeks to raise awareness on these diseases worldwide to serve as a reminder to and enable countries to continue working together to reduce their negative impact.

It was on the theme: “Unite. Act. Eliminate.”

Ms Sharmila Lareef-Jah, presenting the certificate on behalf of the WHO Director-General and Country Representative, said the country’s achievements was a testament to the positive impact of increased political commitment and government investments in the fight against NTDs, “It is evident that with sustained efforts, more NTDs can be targeted for elimination”.

She said the WHO would continue to emphasize the importance of health days in raising awareness about various diseases and advocate for support from communities and stakeholders.

According to her, there has been remarkable progress in controlling and eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

“By December 2022, 47 countries had successfully eliminated at least one NTD, with more countries working towards achieving similar outcomes. In 2022 alone, eight countries were certified for eliminating one NTD, showcasing meaningful progress in this area,” she said.

Ms Lareef-Jah said despite advancements, NTDs remained a significant public health challenge due to their complex epidemiology, often involving vector-borne transmission and links to environmental conditions.

“The effects of climate change further complicate the control and elimination of these diseases. Additionally, financial investment in addressing NTDs has been limited, posing a barrier to progress in this area,” she said.

She said WHO had played a crucial role through the Expanded Programme to Eliminate NTDs (ESPEN), providing operational and financial support to endemic countries.

The WHO’s support had always focused on improving health information and strengthening systems as well as building capacity in supply chain management, she explained.

 “These efforts are central to addressing the challenges posed by NTDs and advancing the global fight against these diseases,” she said.

Ms Lareef-Jah called on the government to rally the population, take appropriate actions to eliminate all NTDs in the country.

Dr Hafiz Taher, Representing the Minister of Health, said to sustain the strives made in the elimination of NTDs, the public should be urged to always keep a clean environment, and not make prayer camps their first point of call when seeking cure.

This was crucial that people seek early treatment rather than present to the hospital late when the cure window is over.

Dr Patrick Kuma- Aboagye, the Director General, Ghana Health Service (GHS), speaking at the launch, said NTDs caused significant morbidity and mortality globally.

He said NTDs were a group of ancient diseases that threaten about 1.7 billion people living in the poorest and most marginalised communities in the world.

According to him, every district in the country was endemic with at least two NTDs, adding that most of the diseases do not kill but produce bad effects, including severe disfigurement, disability, and blindness on patients.

He said the diseases were found in communities with strong association with poverty, thus, people were often affected by more than one disease.

Dr Kuma-Aboagye called for stakeholder collaboration to help tackle extreme poverty and help create awareness.

“For better integration of NTDs activities into the healthcare system, a primary health care approach was essential while maintaining close interaction between programmes to bring multiple health benefits to people in need,” he said.

Ghana fighting 11 NTDs

Ghana is currently battling 11 out of the total of 20 NTDs worldwide, which include Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantiasis), Onchocerciasis (Oncho or river blindness), Schistosomiasis (bilharzia), and soil-transmitted helminthiasis (hookworm).

The rest are Buruli Ulcer, Yaws (a chronic infection that affects mainly the skin, bone and cartilage), leprosy, leishmaniasis (transmitted by the bite of sandflies), and rabies which is transmitted to humans through bites of non-vaccinated dogs.

The Eastern Regional Director of Ghana Health Service, Dr Winfred Ofosu, said all of the 11 NTDs except rabies were prevalent in the Upper West Akim District.

However, the GHS through the NTD Programme was implementing interventions such as case management, preventive chemotherapy to Control, Eliminate and Eradicate these diseases in the country, Dr Ofosu added.

In attendance at the durbar were representatives of the Ministry of Health, programme managers, the World Health Organisation (WHO), representative of the NTD Ambassador, civil society groups, chiefs, district directors of health service, development partners, students and community members.

Development partners at the event reiterated their commitment to scale up efforts in meeting the challenges faced in controlling and eliminating the conditions.