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A Blow to Africa’s Treatment of Curable Diseases

Known as Ascend (Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases), the £200m project had been divided into two, one in west and central Africa, the other stretching across eastern and southern Africa and parts of south Asia. Both had been due to continue until 2022. Instead, they ended a fortnight ago. Sightsavers says that, in its short lifetime, Ascend supported 137m drug treatments for neglected tropical diseases in 12 countries, among them Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The move, say experts, has jeopardised years of slow, steady progress towards the elimination of NTDs, meaning that countries that could have realistically looked forward to stamping out a disease in the near future may no longer be able to do so. “You can’t eliminate a disease in a year. You can’t do it in two,” says Simon Bush, director of NTDs at Sightsavers, the NGO that ran Ascend in west and central Africa. “It’s a very long-term approach, but we’ve proved it’s entirely possible: we’ve got countries like Ghana who have eliminated trachoma [an eye disease that can cause blindness]; Togo has eliminated lymphatic filariasis [a parasitic disease causing severe disfigurement].’