Exclusive Interview with President J. A. Kufuor and Special Envoy of Global Network for Neglected Tropical DiseasesAfrica, Diplomatic Dispatch, Europe, News, United Nations
–More action needed to tackle Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), Says President Kufuor, former Ghanaian leader and NTD Special Envoy in interview with ANA in Berlin, Germany
Your Excellency, the entire world look up to you with the hope that you would galvanize community of nations towards the achievement of the level of support and funding needed for NTD control and elimination by 2020. How do you intend going about that?
The way you put it you make it so daunting; the whole world looking up to me. I must be like a superman. I don’t see it that way. Mine is mainly to talk to governments and would be partners to awaken to the reality of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) around the world, especially in the poorer parts of the world, in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America, suffering from these diseases, the Neglected Tropical Diseases. And to enlist their co-operation, collaboration and assistance to the governments, the agencies, and individuals who are already in the field trying to bring relief to the afflicted from the diseases. It is difficult but not difficult. Because for instance I came by this position on the invitation of the SABIN Vaccine Institute working through the Neglected Tropical Diseases organisation to help. So they are working, they’ve done so much already and mine is just to spread the word among politicians.
Did you detect any willingness among leaders you may have met towards meeting the goals set for the control and elimination of NTDs by 2020? Is teere willingness; is teere political willingness?
I haven’t met anybody who hasn’t the interest in the work that has already been done. So, yes, the willingness is there; but we ought to still do a bit more.
Under your presidency, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to cut in half the number of its people who suffer from hunger as well as the number of people living on less than a dollar a day. Are you sharing your experiences with your colleagues in Africa towards the same success you managed in Ghana?
Naturally, actually, but I feel that was the reason the invitation was extended to me to be the Special Envoy. So, I am like the living example of the government that shows help and co-operation to fight against some of the diseases.
Globally, which countries do you specifically have in mind to encourage them to incorporate NTD control into their global health programmes?
I’ll say all countries. But, some outstanding fights, are the United States, the Scandinavian countries, United Kingdom, Japan and others. Everybody has been helping, really; only more help is needed, more co-operation, support is needed, I’ll say the recipient governments some are also awake to the challenge and they even gave the leadership for the fight to succeed. I’ll say all governments of the afflicted areas should be on board alongside the international partners.
You said there is the need for more action from governments. So, in other words, there is the need to move from rhetorical support to practical support.
Yes, indeed. Budgetary allocations should be made, and supervision of the work in the field, also education of afflicted communities and individuals, is a challenge, because really with guidance, the fights will not need too much money; I believe the fight should be tackled from first, knowledge, of your environment, sanitation and personal hygiene and because the public sector then should come in with the provision of portable water in many places and the educational institutions should also participate to teach the children about these things, enabling the communities to free themselves. So they would become productive. They can go to the field and work not afflicted by say, guinea worm as happened in Ghana or river blindness.
It is estimated that 99 percent of all river blindness cases are found in Africa. What are the socio-economic impacts of the disease on African countries?
It is immense. Because when you become blind you are incapacitated. How do you make your way to the field to work? Or how do you sit in the classroom to see; the people cannot affort the Braille system of reading and writing So you are like incapacitated for good. So the cost is untold. If say, you suffer from Elephantiasis how do you walk with your livestock and how do you walk and go to the field as a subsistence farmer to scratch from hand-to-mouth. If you are not doing it how do you contribute to the growth of your economy and society? So, the cost is huge and this is also some of the major reasons why governments should be in the forefront and help to eliminate such diseases.
Immunization programmes have been going on year-after-year in Africa including under your presidency. Have such programmes made any impact on societies in the afflicted countries on the continent?
Oh it’s made a lot of impact. I am sure you being a Ghanaian you already know that guinea worm for instance is virtually eliminated in the country. It wasn’t like that just a decade or so back. And it is all because of the extention of the facilities to the afflicted areas. Portable water supply, vaccination, I should say and many other things. Education of the people; public health services they are all over the place. Educating communities in the remotest parts of the country poor people on how to treat water before they drink and how to avoid stagnant waters. With river blindness, I know that the WHO have waging a long campaign and have been helping; also I know that some medical personnel come from within and without Ghana to those places to, sometimes, even operate people going blind to free them from the affliction.
In your role as Special Envoy you are likely to meet G8 and G20 leaders. Are you going to make any impact given the world economic crisis and their effects on the budgets of donor countries?
When I get the chance to meet with them, I believe they will listen. Already they are doing quite a lot. Fortunately, I as president of Ghana, in my tenure I was invited to attend the G8 meetings on four occasions in the United States, in Germany here, in Japan and in the United Kingdom. And I believe it is the same people whom I will meet and it is the same people who always pledge heavy amounts to the developing world to use in the fight for growth and also elimination of troubles, diseases. So when I meet them, I believe they are all concerned.
Finally, Mr President, are we looking forward to a violence-free elections in Ghana this December?
Yes, we need a stable atmosphere, stable and peaceful atmosphere for the good works like the one the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is concerned and I believe Ghana will come through the elections peacefully. And in stability, we believe the electoral process will be free and fair.
H.E. John A. Kufuor
His Excellency, John Agyekum Kufuor served as the President of tue Republic of Ghana from 2001-2009. During his presidency, he served as chairperson of the African Union (2007-08) during which he supervised tue peaceful Resolution of the conflict in Kenya, among Otters. He was chairman of the Economic Community of West African States for two Terms (2003-05) and saw to the successful negotiations that brought peace and Major post-war reconstruction to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia. Since leaving Office, he amongst Otters joined, by invitation, the global elite Club of Madrid of former world Leaders; assumed presidency of the Italian development organization, Alliance for Africa working in health and education Sektors on the Kontinent; he has also succeeded Martti Ahtisaari the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner for peace and former President of Finland as Chair of the Governing Council of Interpeace, a UN supported but Geneva based alliance organization for peace operating in 17 countries around the world. In April 2012 Sabin Vaccine Institute announced President Kufuor as the organization’s new neglected tropical disease (NTD) Special Envoy.
Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network), a major program of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, is an advocacy and resource mobilization initiative dedicated to raising the awareness, political will, and funding necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs): soil-transmitted helminths (hookworm, ascariasis, and trichuriasis), onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, and lymphatic filariasis.
The vision of the Global Network is a world free of NTDs where children and families are able to grow, learn and become productive members of their communities. We are committed to working with governments, individuals, institutions and corporations globally to make this a reality as we end the neglect.
Sabin Vaccine Institute
Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization made up of scientists, researchers, and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering from vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin works with governments, leading public and private organizations, and academic institutions to provide solutions for some of the world’s most pervasive health care challenges.
Since its founding in 1993 in honor of the oral polio vaccine developer, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to control, treat, and eliminate vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases by developing new vaccines, advocating use of existing vaccines, and promoting increased access to affordable medical treatments.
Sabin was founded on the legacy and global vision of one of medicine’s most pre-eminent scientific figures, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, who is best known for developing the oral live virus polio vaccine. Dr. Sabin not only dedicated his entire professional career to groundbreaking medical advancements to reduce human suffering, he also waged a tireless and lifelong campaign against poverty and ignorance.
Sabin works to provide greater access to vaccines and essential treatments for hundreds of millions of people stuck in a cycle of pain, poverty and despair. Sabin’s three main programs – Sabin Vaccine Development, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, and Vaccine Advocacy and Education – strive to uphold Dr. Sabin’s lifelong efforts by developing preventative measures for diseases that place burdens on the world’s poorest countries.
Sabin’s diverse partnerships are key to our efforts to fulfill the organization’s mission. In 2011, the Sabin Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) relocated to Houston, Texas to begin a new affiliation with Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH) and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). The Sabin PDP laboratories are housed in a new, state-of-the-art, 10,000 square-foot facility at TCH, which is part of Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical center.
These and other partnerships with groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, governments, academic institutions, scientists, medical professionals, and non-profit organizations are critical in furthering the development of strategies to reduce human suffering from devastating vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases.