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Open letter to South Sudan health minister on World NTDS Day 2024

Dear Minister Yolanda Awel Deng, urgent action is needed to address Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in South Sudan.

As we mark World NTDs Day on 30 January 2024, I write to you on behalf of Leprosy and Neglected Tropical Diseases Organization South Sudan (LANDOS), to bring your attention to the pressing issue of NTDs in South Sudan and to urge the Ministry of Health to take decisive actions to combat these debilitating diseases. And hopefully, urge your leadership in tackling the persistent burden of NTDs in South Sudan. These debilitating diseases, often invisible and overlooked, continue to inflict immense suffering on millions of our fellow citizens, hindering their health, livelihoods, and potential.

Across South Sudan, millions remain at risk of NTDs like trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, and onchocerciasis (river blindness) with the disease being prevalent in around half of the country and with more than 7.5 million people at risk, soil-transmitted helminths, and schistosomiasis. These diseases not only cause immense physical and emotional pain but also perpetuate poverty and limit economic opportunities. Children are particularly vulnerable, with NTDs impacting their education and development.

Your ministry in December 2023 showed unwavering commitment to the fight against NTDs in South Sudan with the Launch of the five-year master plan.

While notable progress has been made in recent years, with South Sudan almost achieving the elimination of guinea worm disease and significant reductions in other NTDs, the fight is far from over. Insufficient funding, access to healthcare, and awareness remain significant challenges.

On this World NTDs Day, it is crucial to reflect on the impact of these diseases on the lives of our people and to reinforce our commitment to eliminating them. I would like to highlight a few key concerns that warrant immediate attention as follows:

Insufficient engagement of Local Indigenous Organizations working to eradicate NTDs: There is an Urgent need to localize the NTDs fight by empowering local community organizations. That focuses the NTDs' fights on real needs in local communities, this should not be just a symbolic paper-checking exercise as is the current practice, but rather an intentional action that gets resources into the hands of these Organizations. 

Limited Access to Treatment and Healthcare Services: Many communities, especially in remote areas, face barriers to accessing essential healthcare services and NTD treatments. It is imperative to improve the distribution and accessibility of medications to ensure that no South Sudanese citizen is left untreated.

Lack of Awareness and Education: A substantial number of our citizens remain unaware of the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures related to NTDs. Increased efforts are needed to educate communities on these diseases, promoting awareness and encouraging early detection and treatment.

Insufficient Funding for NTD Programs: Adequate financial resources are essential for the successful implementation of NTD control and elimination programs. I urge the government to allocate more funds to these initiatives to strengthen our healthcare system's capacity to combat NTDs effectively.

Enhanced Surveillance and Monitoring: Robust surveillance and monitoring systems are critical for tracking the prevalence of NTDs, evaluating the impact of interventions, and adjusting strategies accordingly. The Ministry of Health should invest in strengthening these systems to ensure accurate data collection and analysis.

Although the above challenges might seem daunting, Your capable ministry can overcome them by taking the following decisive actions, that can lead to significant outcomes in reducing the burden of NTDs in South Sudan and improving the overall health and well-being of our citizens as follows.

•     Localize the Key responses to NTDs by fully engaging Local Indigenous Organizations such as LANDOS which are more able to focus on preventive measures for NTDS and comprehensive care of communities and persons afflicted by NTDs to reduce their sufferings and become productive members of the community.

•     Increase political commitment and leadership by Prioritizing NTD control within the national health agenda and securing sustained funding for prevention, treatment, and surveillance programs.

•     Allocate additional funds to NTDs programs to enhance prevention, treatment, and community outreach efforts.

•     Strengthen healthcare systems by ensuring equitable access to essential NTDs services, particularly in remote and underserved areas. Invest in healthcare worker training and infrastructure development.

•     Implement targeted awareness campaigns to educate the public about NTDs and promote early diagnosis and treatment.

•     Promote community engagements by raising awareness about NTDs among communities, and fostering participation in mass drug administration campaigns and behavioral change interventions.

•     Strengthen collaborations with international organizations, NGOs, and other stakeholders to leverage resources and expertise in the fight against NTDs.

•     Collaborate with stakeholders through intentional Partnerships with international organizations, NGOs, and the private sector to leverage expertise and resources for effective NTDs control.

•     Improve healthcare infrastructure in underserved areas to facilitate the delivery of NTDs treatments and services.

By taking these bold steps, Honorable Minister, South Sudan can turn the tide on NTDs, freeing millions from the shackles of these debilitating diseases. Imagine a future where South Sudanese children can grow up healthy and unburdened by NTDs, contributing fully to the nation's development. This is the future we must strive for, and your leadership is crucial in making it a reality.

We stand ready to support your efforts in any way we can. Let us work together to make South Sudan a land free from the scourge of NTDs. "Together, we can unite, act, and eliminate NTDs."

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and I look forward to witnessing positive advancements in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases in South Sudan.

The author, Samuel Bior Nathaniel Garang, is  the CTO, Executive Director, and one of the founding members of Leprosy and Neglected Diseases Organization South Sudan (LANDOS) He is a Microbiologist, and the Past American Society for Microbiology Young Ambassador to South Sudan, and an executive member of the African Initiative for Microbiology (AIG), a post-graduate student in Microbiology, and an active community mobilizer and can be reached via