The United Kingdom has withdrawn £150 million (Sh23 billion) in aid meant for tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) in 24 countries, including Kenya.

This was after the British government reduced the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office annual budget by £5 billion due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The move will affect more than 200 million people in African who are vulnerable to the NTDs. The diseases include visceral leishmaniasis – a fatal illness which causes the swelling of the spleen and liver, with 50 per cent of the global burden being in East Africa.

Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (UCNTD), a coalition of more than 100 organisations, said the cut in funding to fight Guinea worm, blinding trachoma, elephantiasis and other diseases could lead to more problems among the poorest communities on the continent.

Serious impact

UCNTD Executive Director Thoko Elpick said by withdrawing the funding, the UK has reneged on its promise to protect millions from debilitating illnesses.

“This unilateral withdrawal of support will have a devastating impact on the lives and future of countless people,” he said in a statement.

Mr Elpick added that East Africa has the highest burden of blinding trachoma on the planet and is also affected by visceral leishmaniasis.

“Approximately 10,000 people are at risk of dying in East Africa if medicines and diagnostics for visceral leishmaniasis are not secured,” he said.

“Thanks to decades of collaboration and the hard work of local health workers and communities, twelve countries in Africa are on track to eliminate an NTD in three years. But the cuts risk reversing this extraordinary progress. We must act now to ensure that future generations of Africans are not held back.”

Fight against polio

Earlier this week, the British government announced plans to withdraw budgets for initiatives to eradicate polio and help the world’s poorest access clean water.

“The difference with NTDs is that the funding is impacting them indefinitely as the UK is completely exiting from support,” the coalition said.

UCNTD has written an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to maintain at least 50 per cent of this year’s budget to NTDs and commit to the 2022 funding levels.

The letter was sent in partnership with organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), FIND and Global Citizen.

Others are Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, Mundo Sano, and The End Fund.

By Nation Africa